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     Translated from the Russian by George Yankovsky
      ,   " "
     MIR PUBLISHERS Moscow 1969
     OCR: http://home.freeuk.com/russica2
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     "Horsemen From Nowhere" is a science-fiction story about the arrival on
earth of mysterious rose-coloured  "clouds" from deep  space. Members of the
Soviet  Antarctic  expedition are  the  first to  meet them in  a series  of
inexplicable events. The "clouds"  are seen to  be  removing  the  Antarctic
ice-cap and carrying it off into space.  They are capable of reproducing any
kind of atomic structure, and this goes for human beings as well. The heroes
of  the story  meet their "counterparts",  come upon a  duplicated airliner,
journey through a modelled city, and fight Gestapo policemen that  have been
reconstructed  from the past by these same mysterious  "clouds".  Scientists
are not able to explain why terrestrial life is being modelled. All attempts
to contact  the  space beings fail.  In the  end, however, Soviet scientists
penetrate the enigma of the rose clouds and  establish contact with a highly
developed extragalactic civilization.


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     The snow was fluffy and soft, not at all the compacted, sand-paper-like
crystalline neve of the polar wastes. The Antarctic summer was mild, and the
gay frost that tweaked  the ears ever  so slightly  created an atmosphere of
Sunday  hiking  back home  in  Moscow. Our thirty-five-ton  snow tractor was
gliding along at a marvellous clip, but  in  winter  even the  airplane skis
could hardly tear away from the supercooled ice crystals. Vano was a skilled
driver and didn't bother to put the brakes on even in the case of suspicious
humps and bumps of ice.
     "Take it easy,  there, Vano," Zernov shouted from the navigator's cabin
adjacent to the driver. "There might be crevasses."
     "Where do you  see  cracks?"  was  Vano's mistrustful  response, as  he
peered  through dark glasses into the stream  of  blindingly brilliant light
that flooded the cabin through the front window. "This isn't a road, this is
a  highway, the Rustaveli Boulevard  in Tbilisi.  You  can take it from  me,
that's definite. Really, I mean it."
     I climbed out of the radio-room and pulled down the retracted seat next
to Vano. For  some reason,  I turned  round to look at the desk in the salon
where Tolya Dyachuk was doing some meteorological work. I shouldn't have.
     "We  are  now  witnessing the birth  of a new kind of  chauffeur," said
Tolya with a disgusting giggle. And since I disdained to reply, he added:
     "Vanity is killing you, Yura. Aren't two specialities enough for you?"
     Each  of  us   in  the  expedition  combined   two,   sometimes  three,
professions.  Zernov, for example, was the glaciologist, but he could handle
the work of geophysicist or seismologist as well. Tolya Dyachuk combined the
duties of  meteorologist, doctor and cook. Vano was the  mechanic and driver
of the huge  tractor specially designed  for work in polar regions;  what is
more,  he  could  repair   anything  from  a  broken  tractor   tread  to  a
temperamental electric hotplate. I was  in charge of photography, movies and
also the radio. What attracted me to Vano was not any  desire to increase my
range of specialities  but his  own  love for this gigantic  Kharkov tractor
vehicle.
     When  I first saw it from the airplane as we were  landing, it appeared
to me like a red dragon from a fairy tale; but close up, with its metre-wide
tractor  tread  jutting out and its  enormous square  eyes-windows-gave  the
impression of a  creature  from  another world. I had driven  motor cars and
heavy lorries and, with Vano's  permission, had tried the tractor on the icy
land floe near Mirny, but yesterday was windy and  sombre-I  didn't risk it.
But today was crystal clear.
     "Let  me take a try,  Vano," I  said, and didn't  allow myself to  look
back. "Just for half an hour."
     Vano was getting up when Zernov shouted:
     "Come on now, no experiments in driving. You, Chokheli, are responsible
for  the  running  condition  of the  machine.  You,  Anokhin, put  on  your
goggles."
     There  was  nothing  to  do but comply.  Zernov  was chief  and he  was
demanding  and unyielding. Of  course  it  was  definitely dangerous without
goggles to look into the myriads of scintillations produced by a cold sun on
sheets of snow. Only near the horizon did it darken  somewhat as the plateau
merged with  the smeared-out ultramarine of  the  sky. Nearby even  the  air
sparkled white.
     "Look over  there  to the left, Anokhin," Zernov continued.  "The  side
window gives a better view. Nothing unusual?"
     What I saw off to the left, at a distance of about fifty metres, was an
absolutely vertical wall of ice. It was higher than any buildings I knew of.
Even the New York skyscrapers  would hardly  have come  up to its top fluffy
edge.  Brilliantly shining  with all colours of  the rainbow,  it was like a
ribbon  of diamond dust. It was darker at the bottom  where layers of packed
snow  had already frozen into a darkish  hard neve. Lower still, there was a
break in the enormous thickness of ice,  as if a gargantuan knife had sliced
through it. Here it was bluish  in the sunlight, like the sky reflected in a
giant  mirror. At  the very bottom, however,  the  wind had built up  a long
two-metre  high snowdrift-a nice fluffy fringe to match the  same one way up
at the top of  the wall  of  ice. The wall extended  on  and on without end,
tapering off in the distant snowy  reaches of  space. Only the mighty giants
of fairy tales could, it seemed, have  erected it here in this  icy fastness
to  protect no one  knew what from  no  one  knew whom-a fortress of ice. Of
course, ice  in  the Antarctic-no  matter what  its  shapes  and forms-could
hardly impress anyone.  Which is just what I said  to Zernov, for 1 couldn't
see what was so attractive to the glaciologist.
     "A plateau of ice, Boris Arkadievich. Perhaps a shelf glacier?"
     "Old timer," Zernov  said ironically, hinting at  my second trip to the
South Pole.  "Do  you  know  what  a  shelf  is? You don't?  A  shelf  is  a
continental bar. A shelf glacier slides down into the ocean. Now this is not
a glacial precipice and we are not in the ocean." He was silent for a moment
and then added thoughtfully. "Please, stop, Vano.  Let's take a closer look.
This is an interesting phenomenon. Put something on, boys, it's no place for
light sweaters."
     Close up, the wall was still more beautiful.  An unbelievably blue bar,
a chunk  of  frozen sky cut off near the horizon.  Zernov was silent. Either
the magnificence  of  the spectacle  awed him,  or its  inexplicability.  He
peered for the longest time into the snowy line at the topmost fringe of the
wall,  and  then for some reason looked down at his  feet, stamped the snow,
then kicked it about. We watched him but could not figure it out.
     "Just look at this snow we are standing on," he said suddenly.
     We stamped the snow a bit like he had done, and  found a solid sheet of
ice below the thin layer of snow.
     "A real skating  rink," said Dyachuk. "An ideal  plane, probably Euclid
himself helped to make it."
     But Zernov was serious.
     He continued  thoughtfully, "We are standing on ice. There is  not more
than  two centimetres of snow. Now look at the  wall. Metres thick. Why? The
climate  here  is  the  same,  the  same  winds,  the  same  conditions  for
accumulation of snow. Anyone got any bright ideas?"
     Nobody answered. Zernov continued thinking aloud.
     "The structure of the ice is  apparently the  same.  The surface too. I
get  the  impression  of  an  artificial  cut.  And if. you  brush  off  the
centimetre-thick layer of snow under foot, we get  the  same artificial cut.
Now that doesn't make sense at all."
     "Everything is nonsense in  the realm of the  snow queen," I put in for
what it was worth.
     "Why queen and not king?" Vano queried.
     "You explain it  to  him, Tolya," I said, "you're  the  map specialist.
We've got Queen Mary  Land, Queen Maud Land, and then in the other direction
Queen Victoria Land." "Simply Victoria," Tolya added correcting me.
     "Listen,  you  erudite  of  Weather  Forecasts, she  was the  Queen  of
England.  Incidentally, in this same field of forecasting, wasn't it here on
this wall  that the snow queen played with Caius? And wasn't it here that he
cut his cubes and fashioned them into the word 'eternity'?"
     Dyachuk grew cautious, ready for a trap.
     "Hey, who's this Caius guy?"
     "Oh, for heaven's sake,"  I sighed, "why didn't Hans Christian Andersen
deal in weather forecasts?  Do you know the difference between  you and him?
The colour of the blood. His is blue."
     "The octopus has blue blood if you want to know."
     Zernov was not listening.
     "Are we roughly in the same region?" he asked suddenly.
     "What region, Boris Arkadievich?"
     "Where the Americans observed those clouds."
     "No, quite  a bit to  the west,"  put  in Dyachuk. "I've checked by the
map."
     "I said 'roughly'. Clouds usually move, you know."
     "Ducks too," wisecracked Tolya.
     "You don't believe me, Dyachuk?"
     "Of  course not. It isn't  even funny: clouds that are neither  cumulus
nor cirrus. Actually,  there aren't any at all right  now."  He looked up at
the open sky. "Perhaps orographic. They're lens-like in shape with  an extra
layer on top.
     And  rose-coloured due to the sunlight. But these are  dense, a  greasy
rose colour and something  like raspberry  jelly. A lot  lower than  cumulus
clouds, not exactly bags blown up  by the  wind, but something in the nature
of uncontrolled dirigibles. Nonsense!"
     These were  obviously the  mysterious  rose-coloured  clouds  that  the
Americans at  MacMur-do had radioed  about.  Clouds like rose dirigibles had
passed over the island of Ross, were seen on Adelie Land and in the vicinity
of the shelf  glacier Shackleton, and an American pilot was reported to have
collided with them some three hundred kilometres from Mirny. Kolya  Samoilov
received the radiogram  that the  American  radio operator sent out: "I  saw
them myself, the devil take them. Racing along just like a Disney film."
     At Mirny,  on  the  whole, the men were very sceptical about  the  rose
clouds  and only a few  took the  thing seriously. George Bruk, chief  merry
maker, kept at the phlegmatic old-timer seismologist:
     "Now you've surely heard of the flying saucers, haven't you?"
     "Suppose I have."
     "And about the banquet at MacMurdo?"
     "So what?"
     "Did you see the 'Life' reporter off to New York?"
     "What are you getting at, anyway?"
     "Well,  rose-coloured ducks went along with him and all the sensational
news too."
     "Lay off, will you. You're getting to be a pain you know where."
     George  lay  off with a  smirk and  set  out for  some other victim. He
passed me  up, considering perhaps that the chances of success were small. I
was  having lunch  with glaciologist  Zernov, who  was  only eight years  my
senior but was already a professor. Really, no matter how you look at it, to
be a full doctor of science at thirty-six is something to envy, though these
sciences did  not seem  so  important to me-I'm closer to the humanities.  I
didn't believe they could mean so much to human progress. And I said as much
to Zernov on one occasion.
     His answer was: "You probably don't know how much snow and ice there is
on the earth. Take the Antarctic alone: the ice cap here in winter covers up
to twenty-two  million  square kilometres;  add to  that 11  million  in the
Arctic,  then Greenland, and  the coast of the Arctic Ocean. Then put in all
the snow-topped peaks and glaciers, not counting  all the rivers that freeze
over in winter. How much will that come to? About one third of the land area
of the globe. The continent of ice is twice that  of Africa. Which is not so
insignificant when it comes to human progress."
     I swallowed all that ice and any condescending desire to learn anything
during my  stay here in Antarctica.  But after that, Zernov  took  a  kindly
attitude towards me and on the day of the report of "rose clouds", at lunch,
he invited me on a trip into the interior of the continent.
     "Oh, a distance of three hundred kilometres or so," he added.
     "What for?"
     "We'd like to  make a check  on the American phenomenon. It's  a highly
unlikely  thing;  that's  what everyone thinks. But  still it's something to
look  into. For you in  particular. You will  use  coloured  film  since the
clouds are rose-coloured."
     "That's nothing  at all," I put in. "The most ordinary  kind of optical
effect."
     "I don't know. I wouldn't want to refute it outright. The report states
that the colour  appears  to  be  independent  of any illumination. True, we
could presume an admixture of some aero-sole of terrestrial  origin or, say,
meteoritic dust from  outer  space. If you  want  to  know, my interest lies
elsewhere. "
     "And what's that?"
     "The state of the ice in that area."
     I didn't ask why at the time, but I recalled the matter when Zernov was
thinking  out  loud  near  the mysterious  wall of  ice.  He  was  obviously
connecting the two phenomena.
     In the tractor I moved up to Dyachuk's work desk.
     "It's a  puzzling wall and a definitely strange cut," I mused. "How did
they do it, with a saw of some kind? But then where do the clouds come in?"
     "Why do you insist on linking them up?" Tolya asked in surprise.
     "It's  not  me, it's Zernov. Why did he  recall the  clouds when he was
quite definitely thinking about the glacier?"
     "You're just making things more complicated. The glacier is unusual, to
say the least, but what has  that to do with the clouds? The glacier doesn't
generate them."
     "But suppose it does."
     "There is  no suppose to it. Give me a hand here with the breakfast, if
you have nothing better to do. What do you think, omelette out of egg powder
or one of these tins?"
     I didn't have time to answer. Something struck us  with a terrible blow
and we tumbled to the  floor. "Are we really  flying?  From  the mountain or
into  a crevasse?" was all I could think.  That very second a terrific  blow
from  the front struck the tractor and threw  it backwards.  I was tossed to
the opposite wall. Something cold  and heavy banged against  my head, and  I
went out cold.






     I came  to, but  in  a way  I did  not  regain consciousness  because I
continued to lie there without moving  and with not even enough  strength to
open  my eyes.  Consciousness crept  back  slowly,  or  was  it  a  sort  of
subconsciousness?  Vague feelings, hazy sensations  took  hold of me, and my
thoughts-which were just  as indeterminate and nebulous-attempted  to define
them.  I was weightless, and I appeared to be floating or sailing or hanging
not  even  in the  air but  in  empty  space,  in a kind of colourless tepid
colloidal  solution,  thick  and yet  imperceptible  at  the same  time.  It
penetrated into my pores, my eyes and mouth and filled my stomach and lungs,
washing through my blood, or perhaps even took its place and began to course
through my body.  A strange impression  grasped me-that  something invisible
was peering intently  at and  through  me,  investigating with  concentrated
curiosity every blood vessel, every nerve  fibre, down to the very cells  of
my brain. I did  not experience either fear or pain, I slept and didn't, and
dreamt incoherently and formlessly, yet at the same time I was positive that
this was no dream at all.
     When I finally regained consciousness, everything about  me was just as
bright and quiet as usual. I opened my eyes with great difficulty and with a
sharp piercing  pain in  my temples. Right  in  front of me I saw  a smooth,
reddish tree-trunk tower upwards. Was this a Eucalyptus tree or a palm tree?
Or perhaps  a pine whose top  I could not see. I could not turn my  head. My
hand hit  upon something  hard and cold, a stone perhaps. I pushed it and it
rolled into  the  grass soundlessly. My eyes sought the green  grass  of the
Moscow Zoo,  but  the  colour was ochre instead. And from  above,  from  the
window or from  the  sky,  came a  brilliant  stream  of  white  light  that
suggested both  a limitless expanse  of snowy wastes and the blue brilliance
of a wall of ice. Everything became clear at once.
     Overcoming the  pain, I  got to my feet and then  sat down to survey my
surroundings.  I recognized  things now: the brownish  lawn  was  simply the
linoleum and the reddish pole was the foot  of the table, and the stone that
I pushed was my camera. It had probably hit me on the head when the  vehicle
plunged downwards. Where was Dyachuk?  I  called him,  but no  answer  came.
Zernov did not respond, neither did Chokheli. The silence  was more complete
than  that of  a  room  in which you are working and where you  can hear all
kinds of  sounds-the  dropping  of  water,  the squeaking of the  floor, the
tick-tock of a clock or the  buzzing of a fly-this was a total silence where
only my own voice could be heard. I  brought my wrist-watch to my ear-it was
going. And the time was twenty minutes after twelve.
     With great effort I rose to my  feet and,  holding onto the wall, found
my way to the navigator's seat. It was empty, even the gloves and binoculars
had  vanished from the desk and Zernov's fur jacket was not  thrown over the
back of  the  chair.  Zernov's  log  book  was  absent.  Vano  had  likewise
disappeared  together with mittens and jacket.  I looked through  the  front
window;  the outside  glass  was  bent  inwards. Beyond I  could  see smooth
diamond-like snow, as if there had not been any accident at all.
     But my memory persisted and the headache I had was definitely real.  In
the mirror I could see caked blood on my forehead. I probed around a bit and
found that the bone was all right, only the skin had been cut by the edge of
the  camera.  This  meant that  something  had  indeed  taken  place.  Maybe
everybody was nearby in the snow?  I looked in  the  drying room for the sky
clamps:  there were no  skis.  Also absent  were  the duraluminum  emergency
sleighs. All the jackets and  caps, except mine, had vanished. I  opened the
door and jumped down onto the ice. It was bluish and bright under the slight
layer of fluffy snow that the wind  was  blowing every which way. Zernov was
right when  he  spoke of the mysteriously  thin  layer  of snow in the  deep
interior of the polar continent.
     Of a sudden, everything became clear. Right next to our "Kharkovchanka"
vehicle  was another  one,  big  and red and all covered  with snow.  It had
obviously caught up with  us from Mirny or was on its way to Mirny.  And  it
had helped us out of our trouble. That was it. Our tractor had fallen into a
crevasse: about ten metres from here I could see the tracks going downwards,
then the dark opening of a well with a firn-like crust covering  the  crack.
The boys  from  the other tractor had  probably  seen our fall,  which  most
likely had been a lucky one in  which we had got caught  in the mouth of the
fissure, and had pulled us and the machine out.
     "Hello, there, anybody in the. tractor?" I yelled  and went  around the
front end.
     There was not a single face in any one of the four windows and no voice
at all. I began to study the other machine and found that our sister vehicle
had exactly the same bent-in glass in the front window. Then I looked at the
left-hand tread.  Our machine had a  clear-cut mark: one of the steel cleats
had  been welded  on and therefore differed definitely from the others.  Now
this tread had the  same tell-tale mark. These were  no  twins from the same
factory but duplicates that repeated every single detail.  Opening the  door
of the other machine, the duplicate, I trembled fearing the worst.
     True enough. The entrance passage was empty, no skis, no sleighs,  only
my fur  jacket  hanging on the hook.  My jacket, that  was it: torn and with
sewn-up left-hand sleeve, the fur worn off the cuffs and two dark oily spots
on the  shoulder-I  had once picked it  up with oily fingers.  I entered the
cabin in haste and fell against the wall so as not to collapse, for my heart
was about to stop.
     On the floor, near the table,  in a  brown shirt and  padded  trousers,
with face  against the leg of the table and dried up  blood  on the forehead
and one hand holding onto the camera was ME.
     Was this a dream? I had not yet  awakened? I was looking at myself by a
second  vision? I pinched the skin on my hand. It hurt. It was  clear that I
was awake  and  not sleeping.  Well, then I must  have gone  crazy. But from
books I had read I knew that mad people never  realize they  have gone  mad.
Then what is this all about? Hallucinations? A mirage? I touched  the  wall;
it was  real  enough. That meant that  I  myself was  not  an apparition,  a
phantom lying  consciousless at my own  feet. Sheer madness. I  recalled the
words of the mysterious snow  maiden. Then maybe, after all, there is a snow
maiden,  and  miracles do  happen,  and  phantom duplicates  of  people, and
science is simply nonsense and self-consolation.
     What was there to do? Should I run to the duplicate tractor and wait to
go out of my  mind completely?  Then I recalled the dictum that if  what you
see contradicts the laws of nature, then you are to blame, you  err and  not
nature. My fear disappeared, only confusion and anger remained. I  even gave
the lying  man a kick. He moaned and opened his eyes.  Then  he rose on  his
elbow just as I had done and looked around with a dull gaze.
     "Where is everybody?" he asked.
     I did not recognize the voice-perhaps mine in  a tape-recording. But he
was really me,  this phantom, if  he thought exactly  the  way I  had when I
regained consciousness!
     "Where are  they?"  he repeated and  then  yelled  "Tolya! Dyachuk!" No
response. It had been the same with me.
     "What's happened?" he asked.
     "I don't know," I answered.
     "It seemed  to  me that the machine  fell into a  crevasse, and we must
have  been knocked  about  against some wall of ice.  I fell... and  then...
everything fell. Or did it?"
     He did not recognize me.
     "Vano!" he cried, rising.
     Then silence again.  Everything  that  had occurred fifteen minutes ago
was strangely being repeated.  Reeling, he reached the navigator's  room and
touched the empty seat of  the driver,  then he  went into the drying  room,
found-like I had-that there  were no skis or sleighs  and then remembered me
and returned.
     "Where are you from?" he asked peering at me more intently and suddenly
leapt  back  covering his  face  with  his  hand.  "This  can't  be!  What's
happening? Am I asleep?"
     "That's exactly what I said... at  first," I answered. I was  no longer
afraid.
     He sat down on the porolone settee.
     "Please excuse me, but you look exactly like me, in the mirror. Are you
a spectre?"
     "No, you can touch me and find out."
     "But then who are you?"
     "I'm Yuri Anokhin, the cameraman and radio operator of the expedition,"
I said firmly.
     He jumped up.
     "No,  I  am Yuri  Anokhin, the  cameraman  and  radio operator  of  the
expedition," he cried out and sat down again.
     Now both  of us were silent, examining one another; one was calmer, for
he  knew a  little  bit more  and  had seen more; the other  with a glint of
madness in his eyes, repeating, perhaps, all my thoughts-those that had come
to mind  when I  had first  seen him. Yes, there were two men in  this cabin
breathing in the same heavy rhythm- two identical human beings.






     How long this lasted I do not know. Finally he spoke up.
     "I don't understand anything."
     "Me too."
     "A man cannot split into two men."
     "That's exactly what I figured."
     He gave some thought to that.
     "Maybe there is a snow maiden after all?"
     "You're repeating,"  I  said. "I have  already thought about that.  And
that science is nonsense and self-consolation."
     He smiled slightly embarrassed, as if  rebuked by his senior. Actually,
I was his senior. But then he corrected himself immediately:
     "That's   a  joke.   This   is  some   kind  of  physical  and  psychic
mystification.  What  kind exactly, I cannot  make out  yet. But there is an
illusion.
     There is something not real. You know what?
     Let's go see Zernov."
     He understood me almost without speaking- he was my reflection. And our
thoughts  ran to the same  thing:  did our microscope survive the shock?  It
had, it  turned out, and was in its place in the  cabinet.  The slides  were
also  intact.  My duplicate (or counterpart) took them  out  of the  box. We
compared our hands: even the corns and handnails were the same.
     "We'll check and see," I said.
     Each one of us pricked his finger and smeared the blood on the  slides;
then took turns  looking through  the microscope. The blood was identical in
both cases.
     "The same material," he said with a smirk, "a copy."
     "You're the copy."
     "No, you are."
     "Wait  a  minute,"  I  stopped  him, "Who invited  you  to  go on  this
expedition?"
     "Why, Zernov, of course."
     "And what was the purpose?"
     "You're just asking so that you can later repeat the same thing."
     "No, not at  all. I  can tell you. Because of the rose-coloured clouds,
isn't that so?"
     He squinted, recalling something, and then asked cunningly:
     "What school did you finish?"
     "Institute, not school."
     "No, I'm asking  about school. The number. What number was it, have you
forgotten?"
     "You're the one who has forgotten. I finished School No. 709."
     "Well, okey. But who sat next to you on the left?"
     "Now, listen. Why are you examining me?"
     "Just a check up, that's all. You might have  forgotten Lena,  you see.
Incidentally, she got married shortly afterwards."
     "Yes, she married Fibikh," I said.
     He sighed.
     "Your life coincides with mine."
     "Still, I'm  convinced that  you are the copy,  a  spectre and a bit of
witchcraft." I wound up getting angrier all the time. "Who was first to wake
up? I was. And who first saw two tractors? Me again."
     "Why two?" he asked suddenly.
     That's when I began to laugh triumphantly. My priority was now complete
and confirmed.
     "For the simple reason that there is another one alongside it. The real
one. Take a look."
     He  pressed against the  side window and, perplexed, looked at me. Then
without a word he  put on a copy of my jacket and went out onto the ice. The
identically welded  piece  of  tread and  the  identically bent glass of the
window made him frown. Cautiously, he  looked into the entrance way, went on
into the navigator's room  and then returned to the table with my camera. He
even examined it.
     "A real sister," he said gloomily.
     "As you see, she and I were born a bit earlier."
     "All you did was wake up earlier," he added frowning, "and no one knows
which one of us is the real one. Actually, I do know."
     "Suppose he's right, after all?" I thought to myself. "Just suppose the
duplicate  and  phantom  are  not  he at  all,  but me? After  all, who  can
determine a thing like that if  our fingernails have  the same markings  and
our  schoolmates  are  the  same? Even  our  thoughts  are  duplicated, even
feelings if the stimuli from without are the same."
     We looked  at each other as if into a mirror. Just imagine a thing like
that happening!
     "You know what I'm thinking about right now?" he said suddenly.
     "Yes, I do," I answered. "Let's see."
     I knew what he was thinking, because I was thinking about the very same
thing. If there  are  two tractors on the ice and it  is not  known which of
them fell into  the crack in the ice, then why are the  same windows in both
broken? And if both of them fell through, how did they get out?
     We  stopped our conversation  and both ran  to the opening  in the  ice
crust. We stretched out  on the ice and crawled right up to the edge of  the
precipice, and then all  was clear. Only  one  of the machines had fallen in
because there was only one  set of tracks.  It  had  got caught  about three
metres from the edge of the precipice, between the two walls that came close
together at  this point. We could also  see little  steps  made in  the  ice
probably by Vano or Zernov, depending  on who succeeded first  in getting to
the surface.  This obviously meant  that the  second "Kharkovchanka" machine
appeared already after the fall of the  first. But then who pulled the first
one out? It couldn't get out of the crevice by itself definitely.
     I took another  glance into the precipice. It was black, deep, menacing
and  bottomless. I picked up  a  piece of ice that had  broken off the edge-
probably a chunk knocked out by the hack used to cut the steps-and tossed it
down. It straightway  vanished from view but I did not hear any sound of its
hitting  something.  Then  an idea flashed through my  mind: maybe give this
fellow-duplicate  of mine a  push?  Run  up  to  him and trip  him into  the
precipice?...
     "Don't think you'll be able to do it," he said.
     I was dumbfounded at first and only later caught on.
     "You were thinking of the same thing?" "Of course."
     "Let's fight, then. Perhaps one of us will kill the other."
     "And suppose  both are killed?" We stood  opposite one  another, angry,
all  keyed  up,  throwing  absolutely  identical  shadows  on the snow. Then
suddenly all this struck us both as being funny.
     "This  is a farce," I  said. "We'll get back to Moscow and they'll show
us around in a circus. Two-Anokhin-Two."
     "Why a circus? In the  Academy of Sciences. A new phenomenon, something
like the rose clouds."
     "Which don't exist." "Take a look." He pointed to the sky.  In the hazy
blue  in  the  distance  billowed  a  rose-coloured  cloud.  All  alone,  no
companions, no satellites,  just  like a spot of wine on a white tablecloth.
It floated very slowly and low, much below storm clouds, and  did not at all
look  like a cloud. I would sooner have compared it to a  dirigible. It even
resembled more a piece of dark rose-coloured  dough rolled  out on the table
or a  large kite floating  lazily  in  the sky. Jerking along, pulsating, it
moved sideways to the earth as if alive.
     "A jellyfish," my counterpart said, repeating my  own  thoughts on  the
subject, "a live rose jellyfish. Without tentacles."
     "Quit repeating my nonsense. That's a substance and not a creature."
     "You think so?"
     "Just the way you do. Take a better look."
     "But why does it jerk so?"
     "It's billowing  because it's  a gas or  water vapour. Perhaps dust, on
the other hand," I added not very sure of myself.
     The crimson  kite came to halt right overhead  and began to descend. It
was some five hundred metres  distance from us, hardly more. The  shimmering
edges of it turned downwards  and grew dark. The  kite  was  turning into  a
bell.
     "Oh, what a nut!" I exclaimed remembering my camera. "This is just what
ought to be photographed!"
     I rushed to my "Kharkovchanka" vehicle, checked to see  that the camera
was in working order and the colour-film spool in place. All that took but a
minute. I began  to shoot right through the open door, and jumping down onto
the ice I ran around the  two machines and found another angle for some more
shots. Only then did I notice that my alter ego stood without camera and was
watching my movements in a detached, lost sort of fashion.
     "Why aren't you  taking pictures?" I  yelled without taking my eye  off
the viewfinder.
     He did not answer at once and when he did it was strangely slow.
     "I dooon't know. Something is-is-is bothering me."
     "What's all this about?"
     ".. .don't know."
     I looked intently at him and even forgot about the threat from the sky.
This finally was a real difference! We weren't, after all, so completely the
same. He was experiencing something I  did not feel. Something was hampering
his movements, yet I  was free. Without thinking twice I snapped him and the
duplicate tractor as well. For an instant I even forgot about the rose cloud
but he reminded me.
     "It's diving."
     The  crimson  bell  was  no  longer slowly  descending, it was falling,
plunging downwards. I instinctively jumped to the side.
     "Run," I cried.
     My new twin finally moved a bit, but he did not run. Very strangely, he
walked backwards to his own vehicle.
     "Where are you going? Are you crazy?"
     The bell enveloped him and he did  not even answer. I again looked into
the viewfinder and hurried to take these important shots. Fear had even left
me because what I was photographing now was something  truly nonterrestrial.
No cameraman had ever taken pictures like these before.
     The  cloud grew  smaller in  size and darker still. Now  it was like an
upturned saucer  for an enormous  tropical plant. It was no more than six to
seven metres from the ground.
     "Look out!" I cried.
     I had suddenly  forgotten that he too was a phenomenon and not a living
being,  and  in one  gigantic unimaginable  effort  I jumped to  his aid.  I
couldn't  have helped him  anyway,  it turned  out,  but  the  jump cut  the
distance between us by one half. In one more jump I might have  caught  him.
But  something  intervened  and would not let  me;  it  even sent me reeling
backwards, as if by a shock wave or a gust of hurricane wind. I nearly fell,
but still  held on to my camera. The  giant  flower  had already reached the
earth and  its  purple-red petals, pulsating in a wild fashion, covered over
both duplicates,  the vehicle and  me.  Another second and  they touched the
snow-covered ice. Now,  alongside my tractor towered  a  mysterious  crimson
hill. It appeared to steam and boil and bubble, and  was all shrouded in the
rippling colours of  a crimson-like haze.  Golden sparks scintillated  as if
flashes  of electric discharges. I continued to take pictures, all the while
attempting to get as close as possible. Another  step, yet another, . .. and
my feet grew heavy,  still heavier as if tied to the icefield.  An invisible
magnet in them drew me down, as it were -not a step more. And I stopped.
     The hillock  became just the slightest bit brighter, the dull  dark red
brightened to a crimson and then it all  shot straight upwards. The upturned
saucer expanded,  its rosy edges slowly turned upwards. The bell  was  again
transformed into a kite, a rose-coloured cloud, a blob  of  gas billowing in
the wind.  It did not pick anything up from the  earth, no  condensations or
nebulous formations were at all noticeable in its interior.
     But down below stood my "Kharkovchanka" on the icefield, all alone. Its
mysterious double had  vanished  instantaneously, just  as it had  appeared.
Only the snow revealed traces of the wide treads, but the wind blew and they
were soon  covered over with an  even coat  of fluffy snow. The  "cloud" too
disappeared somewhere beyond the  edge of  the wall of  ice. I  looked at my
watch. Thirty-three minutes had passed since, on  coming to my senses, I had
checked the time.
     I experienced  an unusual feeling  of relief  from  the  knowledge that
something terrible indeed, something totally unexplainable had  gone out  of
my  life. More terrible  actually because I had already begun to get used to
the inexplicability, as a mad man  gets used to his  madness.  The  delirium
evaporated together with the rose gas, the  invisible barrier  also vanished
that did not allow me to  approach my duplicate.  Now I was able to go up to
my machine and I  sat down on the iron  step. I did not stop to think that I
would freeze to the metal as the temperature continued to  drop. Now nothing
concerned me except the thought of accounting in some way for that half hour
of nightmare. For  the  second time,  the third  time  and the tenth time  I
dropped my head to my hands and asked aloud:
     "What actually did take place after the accident?"







     The answer was:
     "The most  important thing is that  you  are  alive, Anokhin. Really, I
feared for the worst."
     I raised my head-in front  of me stood Zernov and Tolya. Zernov did the
questioning,  while  Tolya stamped his skis and  knocked the snow about with
his sticks. Stout and shaggy with a soft down of hair on his face instead of
our unshaven  bristles,  he  seemed to have  lost  his sceptical mockery and
looked with boyish eyes all excited and happy.
     "Where did you people come from?" I asked.
     I was so tired and worn out that I didn't even  have strength enough to
smile.
     "Oh, right nearby," Tolya chirped, "a couple of kilometres at the most.
We've got a tent there, too."
     "Wait a minute, Dyachuk," Zernov put in, "there's time for that. How do
you feel, Anokhin? How did you get out? How long ago?"
     "So many questions,"  I said. My tongue  was as  unruly  as  that  of a
drunkard. "Let's start in some order, from  the end, say. How long ago did I
get out?  I don't know. How? Don't know again. How do  I feel?  More or less
normal, as far as I can make out. No fractures, no bumps." "Your morale?"
     Finally  I smiled,  but  it came out rather grim  and insincere because
Zernov immediately asked again:
     "Do you really think that we simply left you in the lurch?"
     "No, not for a minute," I said,  "but a series  of  bizarre events took
place that I can't account for."
     "That I see," Zernov said looking over our ill-fated vehicle. "A  tough
machine it  turned out to be. Just bent  in a few  spots.  Who was  it  that
pulled you out?"
     I shrugged.
     "There are no  volcanoes here. No pressure from below  to eject you. So
somebody must have done the job."
     "I  don't know what happened,"  I  said.  "I just found  myself on  the
plateau here."
     "Boris Arkadievich!" Tolya cried. "There's  only one machine. The other
one must have simply left. That's what I said, a Sno-Cat or a  tractor. They
did it with steel cables, that's all."
     "Pulled  it  out and  left,"  said Zernov doubtfully. "And left Anokhin
behind, without giving him any aid. Very strange, very strange indeed."
     "Perhaps they figured he was out for good. That he was dead.  But maybe
they'll be back. They might have a site nearby. And a doctor too."
     I  was  fed up  with those nonsensical  imaginings  of  Tolya.  He  was
hopeless whenever wound up.
     "Shut up for a while, will you!" I put in, making  a wry face. "In this
case, ten tractors wouldn't have been able to do anything. And there weren't
any cables either. And the second vehicle did not go away, it vanished."
     "So there was a second one after all?" Zernov asked.
     "Yes, there was."
     "But what does 'vanished' mean? Did it perish?"
     "To a certain  extent.  That's  a  long  story,  actually. There  was a
duplicate of our 'Kharkovchanka' machine. Not just a copy, but a  duplicate,
a phantom, a spectre. But a real spectre, an actual one."
     Zernov  listened  attentively  and   with  interest  .  without  saying
anything. There was nothing in his eyes that said: crazy, out of your  head,
you need psychiatric treatment.
     But Dyachuk was constantly ready with a term or two, and aloud he said:
     "You're something like Vano. Miracles are  all you two can see. He came
running crazy-like  and yelling. 'There are two  machines and two Anokhins!'
And his teeth were chattering."
     "You would have crawled on all fours if you had seen the wonders that I
did," I  put in cutting him  short, "there was no  imagination in  this case
because there were two vehicles and two Anokhins."
     Tolya moved his  lips but said  nothing and  looked  at  Zernov; Zernov
turned aside for some  reason. And in place of an  answer  he asked, jerking
his head in the direction of the door behind me:
     "Is everything intact there?"
     "I think so, though I didn't check to find out," I replied.
     "Then let's have some breakfast. No objections? We haven't had anything
to eat since then."
     I  understood  Zernov's psychological manoeuvre:  he wanted to calm  me
down  and create a proper  atmosphere for conversation, for I  was obviously
upset. At table, where we greedily devoured Tolya's lousy omelette, the head
of  the  expedition  related  what had taken place immediately following the
accident on the plateau.
     When  the  tractor  had plunged  into the crevice, breaking  through  a
treacherous crust  of frozen  snow  and had got caught  a  relatively  short
distance from the top and  pressed between jags in the icy  ravine, only the
outside glass  of the window was slightly damaged despite the force  of  the
impact. The light did not even go out  in the cabin. Only Dyachuk and I lost
consciousness. Zernov and Chokheli held on with only a couple  of scratches.
They tried to  bring Tolya and me around first. Dyachuk came to immediately.
But his  head was going round in  circles and  his feet felt like cotton. "A
concussion of a sort," he said. "That'll  pass.  Let's see what's wrong with
Anokhin." He was  already getting  into the role  of doctor. They pulled him
over to me and the three of  them tried to  bring me to. But neither ammonia
salts  nor artificial respiration helped. "He seems to be  in  shock, if you
ask me,"  said Tolya.  Vano, meanwhile, had  made his way through  the upper
hatch and from the roof of the "Kharkovchanka" reported that it was possible
to get out of the crevice.  But Tolya was against trying to get me out. "The
main  thing now," he  said, "is to protect him from the cold. I believe that
shock passes into  sleep and sleep will set up a protective  inhibition." At
this point  Tolya  almost  went out  again,  and it was decided to start the
evacuation with Tolya and leave  me in  the  cabin for the  time being. They
took skis, sleighs, the tent, a portable stove and briquettes for heating, a
lantern  and part of the food  supply. Though  the machine was in  a  stable
position  and there  was no more danger of it falling farther,  they did not
want to stay any longer hanging over the precipice. Zernov recalled the cave
in the ice wall  a short distance  from  the  site of the  accident. So they
decided to transfer  all the equipment there and Tolya too  and then  set up
the  tent and stove and return for me. In half an hour they had  reached the
cave. Zernov  and Tolya,  who had meanwhile regained some strength, remained
to set up the tent, while Vano  returned with  empty sleigh  to fetch me. It
was then  that  the event took  place  which  made  them think  that  he had
momentarily lost  his mind.  Hardly an hour had passed when he  came running
back with  mad eyes,  in a state of strange feverish excitement. The machine
he said was not in the crevice  but on  an icefield, and what is more, there
was  another one just like  it alongside,  with the  same dent in  the front
glass.  And in  each one  of the two cabins he found me  lying  on the floor
unconscious.  At this  point he cried out in terror,  figuring that he  must
have gone mad, and ran back. there  he drank down  a whole glass of  spirits
and refused  point blank to go after me, saying  that he was used to dealing
with human  beings and not snow maidens. Then Zernov  and Tolya set out  for
me.
     In response, I told them  my version of the story, which was still more
remarkable than  Vano's ravings.  They listened avidly, credulously, the way
children  listen to a  fairy story, not a  single  sceptical  snicker,  only
Dyachuk hurried me on now and then with "and then what". Their eyes shone so
that I  felt they both ought to repeat Vano's  experiment with  the glass of
vodka. But when I  finished they both were silent for a long time, hoping, I
imagine, for an explanation from me.
     But I was silent too.
     "Don't  be angry,  Yuri,"  Dyachuk finally mumbled. "Scott's diary,  or
something   like   that.  Well,   what   I   mean  is   self-hypnosis.  Snow
hallucinations. White dreams."
     "And how about Vano?" Zernov asked.
     "Well, of course, as a doctor I-"
     "You're a hell of a doctor,"  put in Zernov, "so let's forget it. There
are too many unknowns  to  try  and solve the  equation straight  off. Let's
begin   from   the   beginning.   Who  pulled   out  the  machine?   From  a
three-metre-deep well,  and  wedged into a vice that  no factory  could have
made. Yes, and weighing thirty-five tons. Even a whole tractor  train  would
probably not be strong enough. And what did they use to pull it out? Cables?
Nonsense.  Steel cables would definitely leave traces  on  the body  of  the
machine. But there aren't any, as you can see."
     He got up without saying a word and went into the navigator's room.
     "But that's  sheer nonsense,  madness, Boris Arkadievich!" Tolya yelled
after him.
     Zernov turned round.
     "What do you mean?"
     "Why  all  these adventures of  Anokhin, the new  Munchausen, all these
duplicates, clouds, vampire flowers and mysterious vanishing."
     "Anokhin,  didn't  you have a  camera  in  your  hand when we came up?"
Zernov asked. "You must have been taking some pictures."
     "Yes, I photographed everything I could, the clouds, the double machine
and my counterpart. I shot for about ten minutes."
     Tolya blinked his eyes, but was still ready to  argue, not at all about
to give in.
     "It's still a question what we'll see when he develops it."
     "You'll see in  just a minute," came Zernov's  voice from his quarters.
"Look out the window."
     Coming towards us at  half a kilometre altitude was a tightly  wound up
crimson pancake. The sky was already covered over with white fleecy wisps of
cloud, and on their background it appeared to be less of a cloud. As before,
it resembled a coloured sail or an enormous  kite. Dyachuk cried out and ran
to the doorway,  we  followed.  The  "cloud" passed over us without changing
course, heading for the north to the turning of the ice wall.  "Towards  our
tent," Tolya murmured and stepped towards me.
     "I'm sorry, Yuri,"  he said and extended his hand, "I'm the  poor  fool
this time."
     I was in no mood to celebrate my victory.
     "That's  not  even  a cloud,"  he continued  thoughtfully,  summarizing
certain ideas that had been worrying  him. "What I mean is the ordinary kind
of condensation of water  vapour. These  are not droplets  and  they're  not
crystal either. At first glance, at any  rate. And  why does it hug so close
to the ground, and that  strange colour? A gas, it can hardly be a gas. It's
not dust either. If we had an aircraft I'd take a sample."
     "They'd  be eager  to  let  you have  some," I  remarked recalling  the
invisible  barrier and  my attempts  to  get  through it with my camera. "It
presses down to the ground mighty hard, I thought the soles of my shoes were
magnetic."
     "Do you think it's something living?"
     "Might be."
     "A creature of some kind?"
     "That's hard to  say,  it might even be  a substance."  I  recalled  my
conversation with my double and added: "Probably controllable."
     "How?"
     "You ought to know, you're a meteorologist,"
     "But are you sure it has some connection with meteorology?"
     I  said  nothing.  And  when we  returned to the cabin, Tolya  suddenly
expressed a really crazy idea.
     "Suppose those  are  some kind  of  inhabitants  of  the ice  continent
unknown to science?"
     "Brilliant,"  I  said.  "In  the  spirit  of  Conan  Doyle.  Courageous
explorers discover lost world on Antarctic plateau. And you're Lord Roxton?"
     "There's  nothing funny in  that. What's  your hypothesis if you've got
one?"
     Stung, I said the first thing that came to mind.
     "Cybernetic robots most likely."
     "Where from?"
     "Oh, from Europe or from the United States. Just tests that's all."
     "But for what purpose?"
     "Oh,  say, for  excavation purposes and the hoisting of  big loads. The
'Kharkovchanka' machine was  an ideal  item  for experimentation. That's why
they hauled it up."
     "But what sense is there in duplicating it?"
     "It  might  be  that  these are  some  kind of  ingenious  devices  for
reproduction of atomic structures, whether protein or crystalline."
     "Yes, but the purpose. What's the idea? I don't get it."
     "According to the  findings  of  Bodwin,  an underdeveloped  cerebellum
reduces one's ability to  comprehend by 14  to 23 per  cent.  Give that some
thought and I'll be waiting. There's another element of the hypothesis and a
significant one."
     Tolya  was so eager to figure this out that he swallowed Bodwin and the
percentage without a word.
     "I give up," he said. "What element?"
     "The counterparts or doubles," I  pointed  out.  "You were on the right
track when you spoke of self-hypnosis. But only on the track. The truth lies
in  a different direction and  on another route. It's not self-hypnosis, but
intervention  in  the processing  of  information. Actually,  there were  no
duplicates at  all, no  second  vehicle, no  second  Anokhin,  no  duplicate
clothing and things, like say  my jacket or  camera. The 'cloud' reorganized
my psychic state and created a dichotomous perception of the world. And as a
result, a splitting of the personality, a twilight state of the soul."
     "Still and all, your hypothesis lacks the most important thing: it does
not account  for the physico-chemical  nature  of these devices, nor does it
explain  the  technical workings or  the  purpose in  making them and  using
them."
     To  call my ravings  a  hypothesis was of course sheer nonsense, to say
the  least. I  concocted  it  on  the  spur of the moment and  persisted  in
developing  it only out of stubbornness. It was perfectly clear to me myself
that  it  accounted for nothing,  and, what  is most  important, it  did not
answer the question of why  it was  necessary  to eliminate the doubles that
had existed only in my imagination  or why I was not allowed to approach the
mysterious laboratory. Of course everything depended on the developed  film.
If the cine eye caught what I saw, then my hypothesis was hardly more than a
Joke.
     "Boris Arkadievich, we need help," Tolya implored.
     "In  what?" Zernov  said. He obviously hadn't been listening.  "Anokhin
has  a  fine  imagination,  it's  a  wonderful  quality   for  painters  and
scientists."
     "He's got a hypothesis."
     "Every hypothesis requires verification."
     "But every hypothesis has a limiting probability."
     "The limit of Anokhin's," Zernov agreed, "is in the state of the ice of
this region. It cannot  explain why  and for whom all these tens and perhaps
hundreds of cubic kilometres of ice are."
     We didn't grasp the meaning and so Zernov patiently and condescendingly
explained.
     "Before the accident I called your attention to the flawless profile of
the  wall of ice that starts god knows where and stretches for I  don't know
how long.  To me it  seemed to be an artificial cut. And  under foot the cut
was  just  as artificial. Even at that time  I noticed how insignificant the
density  and thickness  of the snow cover was.  I can't help but feel that a
few kilometres from here  we might find a similar wall parallel to this one.
It's  sheer conjecture of course. But if it's right, then what kind of force
could have extracted and transported such a layer  of ice? A cloud? Perhaps.
After  all,  we  do  not know its  capabilities. But of European or American
origin?" He  shrugged his shoulders. "Then  you tell me,  Anokhin, what were
these millions of tons of ice for and where have they disappeared to?"
     "But  was  this an excavation, Boris Arkadievich? You say there are two
borders to an extracted layer. Why?" I exclaimed, "Where are  the transverse
cuts? Besides it is  more natural to perform the excavation in the form of a
crater."
     "That is, if you are not concerned about movements  over the continent.
Apparently, they did not want to interfere in such  movements. Why? The time
has not yet come for conclusions, but I think that they are not  hostile; on
the contrary, they appear to be friendly. Then look at it this way: for whom
is  it  more  natural to excavate  ice  precisely  in  that fashion and  not
otherwise? For us? We  would  have put up a fence around the site, nailed up
directions and instructions,  announced  the  business  over the radio.  But
suppose they couldn't or didn't want to?"
     "Who are these 'they'?"
     "I am not making any hypotheses," Zernov answered dryly.






     I took along my cine camera on our  journey to the  tent but no "cloud"
put in an appearance. At our little council we decided to move to the  cabin
of the  tractor, make  the necessary repairs and then move  on. We  received
permission  to  continue the search  for  the  rose clouds.  Just before our
discussion, I connected Zernov with Mirny. He reported the accident briefly,
mentioned  the "clouds" we had seen and also the first movies I had taken of
them. He did  not say  anything- about duplicates  and the  other mysteries.
"Too early," he said to me.
     They selected a nice site at a distance of a quarter of an hour on skis
with a wind at our back. The tent  was up  in the  cave, which was protected
from the wind  from three sides. However, the cave itself produced a strange
impression: a cube of ice had been carefully cut out  and had left perfectly
smooth walls, as if they had been  planed by hand. No icicles, no accretions
of ice. Zernov, without saying a word, punched the tip of his ski stick into
a geometrically regular cut of ice, as  if to say that nature had nothing to
do with that.
     We didn't find Vano  in  the  tent,  but everything  was in disorder-an
upturned stove  and  the box  with briquettes, skis thrown  about,  and  the
leather  coat of the  driver at the  entrance way. This  was  surprising and
suggested danger. Without taking off our  skis we went in search of Chokheli
and found him right near the ice wall. He was lying in the snow with  only a
sweater on. His unshaven face and black cap of hair were covered with a thin
fluffy layer of snow. In one hand, thrown to the side, he clenched  a  knife
with traces  of  caked frozen blood.  On the  snow near his shoulder  was  a
spread-out rose-coloured spot.  The  snow about had been stamped on, and  as
far as  we  could make  out,  the  tracks were  those of  Vano, for he  wore
enormous-size boots.
     He was alive.  When we raised him, he moaned but did not open his eyes.
Being- the strongest,  I lifted  him onto my back. Tolya  supported him from
behind. In the tent  we carefully removed the sweater and found the wound to
be quite superficial.  There was  little loss of blood  and the blood on the
knife was most likely  that  of  his opponent. We were not so much afraid of
the loss of blood as of overcooling. We did not know how long he had lain on
the ice. But luckily it wasn't very cold and he was tough. We rubbed the boy
with alcohol  and, pulling  open his  clenched teeth, we poured some inside.
Vano coughed, opened his eyes and muttered something-in his native Georgian.
     "Don't move," we  cried,  bundling him  up in the sleeping bag  like  a
mummy.
     "Where  is  he?" Vano asked suddenly,  coming to.  This  time he  spoke
Russian.
     "Who? Who are you talking about?"
     He did not  respond, his strength  was giving out and he began to rave.
It was impossible to make anything out of the gibberish of mixed Russian and
Georgian words.
     "The snow maiden," was what I heard, at least that is what  I thought I
heard.
     "He's delirious," Dyachuk said grieved.
     Only Zernov was calm.
     "That guy's cast iron,"  it  was said  of Vano, but it could have  been
said of Zernov himself.
     We decided to wait till evening before starting on our journey, all the
more so since both day and evening were just as light.  And Vano needed some
sleep too: the  alcohol  was beginning  to take action.  A strange torpitude
took  hold of us as well.  Tolya grunted, climbed into his sleeping  bag and
was  soon  asleep. Zernov  and  I  tried our best to  stay  awake,  smoke  a
cigarette, but finally gave  up. We spread out  our sponge mat and slithered
into our sleeping bags.
     "We'll take an hour off and then start on the trip."
     "Okay, boss, one hour of sleep."
     There was silence.
     For  some reason, neither he nor I  expressed any ideas about what  had
happened to  Vano.  As  if in conspiracy we  refrained  from any commentary,
though I am sure we were  both thinking about the same thing. Who was Vano's
enemy  and  where  did he come  from  in this  polar  desert? Why  was  Vano
undressed and  outside  the cave,  he  had not  even had  time to put on his
leather coat. This means the fight began in the tent. What came before that?
And  why  the  blood-covered  knife  in  Vano's  hand?  This  was surprising
especially since Chokheli never used weapons, despite his  excitable nature,
unless truly forced to it. What made  him do it-did he try to defend someone
or  was it simply a marauding attack?  But that is certainly funny,  robbers
beyond the Antarctic circle where friendship is the law of every  encounter.
But perhaps he was a  criminal  escaping justice. Again obvious nonsense. No
government would exile anyone to the Antarctic and to try to  escape to this
icy continent by one's self would be practically impossible. But it might be
that  Vano's  opponent was a  shipwrecked  sailor  who  had  gone  mad  from
unbearable  aloneness.  But we  had not  heard of  any  shipwrecks  near the
Antarctic coasts. And of course  how could he have found his way so far into
the interior  of  the icy continent? Zernov was most probably asking himself
those very same questions. But he kept silent and so did I.
     It was not cold  in the tent, for  the stove  was still giving off some
warmth, and  it was not dark. The light coming through  the mica windows did
not  really illuminate the objects within, but it was  enough to distinguish
them in the dim twilight. However, gradually or at once-I did not notice how
or when-the twilight did not exactly get denser or darker but somehow turned
violetish, as if someone had  dissolved a few  grains of manganate. I wanted
to  get up,  and  push  Zernov  and call  him, but I couldn't-something  was
pressing on my  throat, something pressed me  to  the  ground, just  as  had
happened in the "Kharkovchanka" when  I regained consciousness.  But at that
time it seemed to me that somebody  was looking through me, filling me  full
and merging with every cell of my  body. Now, if to use the same picturesque
code, somebody had looked into my brain and then let go, enveloping me  in a
violet cocoon. I could look but I didn't see anything.  I could think  about
what was occurring but I could not understand it at all. I could breathe and
move  but only within my cocoon. The slightest penetration into  the  violet
gloom called forth a response like that of an electric shock.
     I  do not  know how long that continued, for I didn't look at my watch.
But the  cocoon suddenly opened  up and I saw the walls  of the tent and  my
comrades asleep  in the same dim, but no longer violet, twilight.  Something
hit me and I climbed out of the sleeping bag, picked up my camera and rushed
out. Snow was coming down,  the sky was covered over with  turbulent cumulus
clouds.  Only somewhere  in the zenith did the  familiar rose-coloured  spot
fleet by. It flashed across and vanished. But perhaps that was all a dream.
     When I returned,  Tolya, yawning  broadly, was seated on the sleigh and
Zernov was slowly climbing out of his  sleeping bag. He glanced at me, at my
cine camera and, as is  usual with him,  said nothing. Dyachuk said  through
his yawn:
     "What  an  awful dream I  had, comrades! As  if I  was asleep, and  not
asleep. I wanted  to sleep, yet I couldn't fall asleep for  anything.  I was
just  lying  there  in  forgetfulness  and  couldn't see anything,  no tent,
nobody. Then something  sticky, dense and thick like  jelly plumped onto me.
It wasn't warm, it wasn't cold, I  just couldn't feel. It filled me up right
to  the  ears,  complete,  as  if  I  were dissolved,  like  in  a state  of
weightlessness, you float or hang in space. And I didn't see myself  or feel
anything. I was there and yet I wasn't at all. Boy, that's funny, isn't it?"
     "Curious it certainly is," said Zernov and turned away.
     "Didn't you see anything?" I asked.
     "And you?"
     "Not now, but in the cabin, just before  I woke  up  I felt exactly the
way Dyachuk did. Weightlessness, no sensations, no dream, no reality."
     "Mysteries,  all  of  them,"  Zernov  muttered.  "Whom have  you found,
Anokhin?"
     I  turned round. Throwing  back the canvas door of  the tent, obviously
right behind me, came  a robust man  in a cap with high standing  artificial
fur  and  in  a nylon fur  jacket with a zipper.  He was tall, broad  in the
shoulders and unshaven  and appeared  to be terribly frightened.  What could
have frightened this athlete is hard to imagine.
     "Anyone speak English here?" he asked, chewing and stretching the words
as he spoke.
     "Not  one of  my  teachers  ever  had  a  pronunciation  like  that.  A
southerner, probably from Alabama or Tennessee," I thought.
     Zernov spoke the best English among us and so he answered:
     "Who are you and  what do you want?" "Donald Martin!" he yelled. "Flier
from MacMurdo. Got anything to drink? As strong as you've got." He  drew the
edge of his palm across his throat. "Very necessary."
     "Give him some spirits, Anokhin," said Zernov.
     I  poured out  a  glass and  gave it to him. Though very  unshaven,  he
couldn't have been older  than  me.  He took  the  whole almost at  a single
swallow, coughed, his throat constricted and his eyes filled with blood.
     "Thank you, sir," he said finally  when he could catch his breath. Then
he started to tremble. "I had to make a forced landing, sir."
     "Skip  the  'sir'," said Zernov, "I'm  not your  superior. My  name  is
Zernov. Zernov," he repeated each syllable. "Where did you land?"
     "Not far from here. Almost alongside."
     "Without mishap?"
     "No fuel, and the radio's on the bum."
     "Then you can stay here. And you can help us move over to the tractor."
Zernov stopped, trying to get the  proper English pronunciation, and, seeing
that the American wasn't  sure, he added:  "Oh, there's place enough and  we
have a radio set."
     The American continued to hesitate, as if not decided yet that he would
speak, then he pulled himself up and in military fashion said:
     "Please arrest me, sir. I have committed a crime."
     Zernov and I exchanged glances. Perhaps the thought of Vano occurred to
us at the same time.
     "What kind of a crime?" Zernov asked guardedly.
     "I think that I have killed a man."






     Zernov walked over to  Vano who was all covered up. He threw  back  the
fur from his face and sharply asked the American:
     "Is this the man?"
     Martin cautiously  and, what  appeared  to me to  be  in  a  frightened
manner, approached and said rather unconvincingly:
     "Nnnoo."
     "Take a better look," said Zernov still more sharply.
     The flier shook his head uncomprehendingly.
     "Not at all like him, sir.  Mine is in the plane, and what is more," he
added with care, "I still don't know whether he's a human being or not."
     At  that  moment Vano  opened his eyes. He glanced  at the American who
stood near him, his head rose above the pillow and then he fell back again.
     "That's ... not me," he said and closed his eyes.
     "He's still delirious," Tolya signed.
     "Our  comrade is wounded. Somebody attacked him. We  do not know who it
was,"  Zernov explained to the  American.  "And so  when you  said  ..."  he
delicately dropped the subject.
     Martin pulled over Tolya's sleigh and sat down, covering  his face with
his hands and teetered back and forth as if in unbearable pain.
     "I don't know whether you'll believe me or not, it's all so unusual and
unlike the truth," he started to relate. "I was flying a oneseater, a little
Lockheed, a former  fighter plane, you know  the kind. It even has a  double
machine-gun for circular fire. One doesn't need it here, naturally,  but the
rules state that you have to keep the gun in order, just  in case. And there
was a case  only it didn't work  out.  Have you  people ever heard  of  rose
clouds?"  he asked suddenly, and without waiting for an answer he continued,
a cramp deforming his  mouth for  a moment. "I caught up with them about  an
hour and a half after take-off."
     "Them?" I asked incredulously. "There were several?"
     "A  whole  squadron. They  were flying low,  about two miles below  me,
large rose jellyfish.  Maybe  a dark red, crimson,  say. I counted  seven of
different shapes and hues from the pale rose of not-yet-ripe raspberry to  a
flaming  garnet. Now the colour was changing all the time, getting darker or
thinning out as  if diluted with water. I cut speed and plunged, calculating
on getting a sample. I have a special container under the undercarriage. But
it didn't work, the medusas  escaped. I caught up with them but they escaped
again, without any effort, as if they were playing hide and seek. And when I
increased my  speed they  rose and  scudded away above  me. Light large  and
flat,  like a kid's  balloon.  But  are they  fast,  why they'd  outstrip  a
four-engine Boeing. They led me on as if  they were  living  beings. Only  a
living  being can act that way  when  it feels danger. And  so I thought, if
that's the case, they themselves may become dangerous. I figured  I ought to
get away. But they appeared to guess  my  manoeuvre. Three crimson jellyfish
rushed out at a terrific speed and swinging round without cutting speed they
plunged for  me. I didn't even have time to yell, the plane was enveloped in
a fog, not even a fog, something slime like, thick and slippery. That's when
I  lost  control completely-speed, control  and visibility.  I couldn't even
move my foot or hand. I figured that's the end. The plane wasn't falling, it
was sliding downwards like a glider. Then it landed and I didn't even notice
how it landed. The sensation was like sinking into  a reddish  slime, choked
but not dead. I looked around; snow everywhere  and  a plane next to mine, a
copy of my  little Lockheed. I got out and went up  to it, and coming out of
the cabin  was  another  great big guy like  me.  I  don't know,  he  looked
familiar.  Couldn't figure  it out. So I asked him: "Who  are  you?" "Donald
Martin," he says. Looking at him was like  looking  in a mirror.  "And you?"
"No, I said, I'm Donald  Martin." He  struck out at me, I  ducked and sent a
left to  the jaw. He  fell and hit his head against the door, an awful bang!
There he  was lying  still.  I gave him a  kick, but he didn't move.  Then I
shook him. His head just dangled. I dragged him over to my plane and thought
I'd get him to the base for help, but when I checked the gas, there wasn't a
drop. So I went to radio the  news but the  set  wouldn't work. I must  have
gone out of  my head then, because I just jumped out and  ran for all  I was
worth, no direction, no aim, I just ran, because I couldn't  stand the crazy
house  any longer.  I even  forgot  how to pray,  all I  could say was Jesus
Christ. Then I saw your tent and here I am."
     Listening  to  him I recalled my  own trials  and tribulations and  now
began to realize  what had  happened  to Vano. What Tolya was thinking, with
his eyes bulging out, was hard to say;  he was probably  doubting and double
checking every word Martin uttered. He was about  to start with questions in
his school English, but Zernov got in ahead of him:
     "You remain here with Vano, Dyachuk,  and Anokhin and I'll go  with the
American. Let's go, Martin," he added in English.
     Instinct  or premonition-I don't  know  what  psychologists would  call
it-told me to take my cine camera,  and I was thankful for that subconscious
idea.  Even  Tolya  looked  surprised-the  body  for  the inspector  or  the
behaviour of the murderer at the sight of the body? The pictures I took were
different,  however,  and I  began  to  shoot  as we approached the  site of
Martin's  accident. There were no longer  two planes,  but one-Martin's  own
silver canary, his polar veteran with swept wings. But right next  to it the
familiar  (to me) bubbling  crimson  hillock.  It smoked,  changed shades of
colour  and pulsated in a  strange manner, as  if  it were indeed breathing.
White elongated flashes broke out from time to time like sparks in welding.
     "Don't go near," I warned Martin and Zernov as they ran past me.
     But the upturned  flower  had already  extended its  invisible  shield.
Martin  who  was in the  lead strangely  slowed down, and Zernov simply went
down on his knees. But both of them pushed forward overcoming the force that
pulled them groundwards.
     "Jesus!" yelled Martin turning to me, and he fell to the ground.
     Zernov retreated, wiping the sweat from his forehead.
     Meanwhile I was shooting all of this; I moved round the crimson hillock
and  bumped  into the murdered man, or perhaps Martin's double who  was only
wounded. He was lying  in  the same nylon jacket with  synthetic fur covered
over with a fluff of snow some three to four metres from the airplane  where
Martin had dragged him.
     "Come on  over here, here he is!"  I cried. Zernov and  Martin ran over
towards me,  rather they seemed to  skate over to me,  balancing  with their
hands, as  one  does  when walking on ice without skates. Here too, the  big
flakes of snow had powdered the smooth thickness of ice.
     Then something utterly new happened that neither  I nor  my camera  had
ever recorded. A crimson petal separated itself  from  the vibrating flower,
darkened,  curled   up   in  the  air  and  stretching  out  into  a  living
four-metre-long snake with open jaws covered the body lying before us. For a
moment or two this snake-like tentacle sparkled and boiled and then tore off
the ground and  in its enormous  two-metre maw  we saw nothing-only a violet
emptiness  of  an unnaturally stretched-out bell that  before our very  eyes
changed shape from cone  to rippling petal. Then it  merged with the cupola.
The only thing left on the snow was a trace-a formless silhouette of the man
that had just lain here.
     I  continued  filming  all  this  in  a  hurry  to  catch  the   latest
transformations. It had begun. The whole flower had now detached itself from
the ground, and as  it rose  the rim curved upwards. The bell, spread out in
the air,  was likewise  empty: we  could clearly  see that there was nothing
whatsoever  inside,  we saw  the  rose coloured interior  and  the  delicate
expanding edges. It would now turn into a rose "cloud" and vanish beyond the
other real clouds.  And  on the ground there would be only  one airplane and
one pilot. That is exactly what took place.
     Zernov and Martin stood silent, stunned, just like I was the first time
that morning.  I  think Zernov  had  already  come close  to deciphering the
puzzle which  to me  was still only a faint glimmer of a possibility. It did
not shine, it only suggested the outlines of a fantastic but still logically
admissible picture. Martin was simply crushed  not so much by  the horror of
what had occurred but by the  single thought that this was only the fruit of
a  disturbed  imagination.  He  obviously wanted to ask about something, his
terrified  look restlessly flitted from me  to Zernov until, finally, Zernov
smiled as if to say, go ahead. And Martin put the question.
     "Who was it I killed?"
     "We can take it that it wasn't anybody," Zernov smiled again.
     "But that was a real live man," Martin repeated.
     "Are you sure?" Zernov asked.
     Martin was confused.
     "I don't know."
     "That's just it. I would say temporarily alive. The same force  created
it and wiped it out."
     "But why?" I asked cautiously.
     He answered with exasperation-not like him at all.
     "You think I know more than you do? Let's develop the film and see."
     "And you  think we'll understand then?" I  no longer tried  to hide the
irony.
     "It might be," he said deep in thought.
     Then  he went  out ahead without  even inviting  us to  come along.  We
exchanged glances and followed together.
     "What's your name?" Martin asked familiarly  taking me by  the  arm. He
must have seen we were of the same age.
     "Yuri."
     "Yuri, Yuri. Mine's Don. Do you think that thing was alive?"
     "Yes, I have an inkling it was."
     "Something local?"
     "Don't think so. No expedition has ever encountered anything like it."
     "Then where did it come from?"
     "You'll have to ask somebody smarter than me, I don't know."
     He was already getting under my skin. But he didn't seem offended.
     "What do you think it is, jelly or gas?"
     "You tried to take a sample, you should know."
     He laughed.
     "I wouldn't advise anyone to try. I wonder why it didn't just gobble me
up there in the air? It swallowed me and then spit me out."
     "I suppose it didn't find you very tasty."
     "Did he swallow him up?"
     "I don't know."
     "But you saw what happened."
     "I saw it  cover him  up, but I didn't see  it  swallow  him. Rather it
dissolved or evaporated the thing."
     "What kind of temperature is needed?"
     "Did you try to measure it?"
     Martin even stopped, struck by the enigma.
     "To melt a plane like that? In three minutes? Ultradurable duraluminum,
by the way."
     "Are you sure it was duraluminum and not a hole of a doughnut?"
     He didn't  understand and  I didn't  try to  explain; from there  on we
didn't  exchange  a  word till  we got to the  tent.  Here  too things  were
happening. I was struck by the strange pose Tolya  had taken,  doubled up on
the box of briquettes  and clicking his teeth from horror or  from the cold.
The stove had already cooled off, but it  didn't seem to be very cold in the
tent.
     "What's  the  trouble, Dyachuk?"  Zernov asked. "Heat up the  stove  if
you're cold."
     Tolya did not answer; like one hypnotized, he Sat down near the stove.
     "Going nuts a little bit," said Vano from  under his fur protection. He
seemed to be gay enough.
     "We had some  visitors too," he added  and  nodded in the  direction of
Tolya.
     "There  wasn't anyone here. Speak for yourself!" he shrieked and turned
to us. His face was twisted, distorted, almost about to cry.
     Vano put his finger to his head as if to say we're all crazy.  "We're a
bit upset. Okay, tell  your own story," he said to Tolya and turned away. "I
myself was damn upset, Yuri, when I saw two copies  of you. I couldn't stand
it and ran  like hell.  Jesus it  was awful,  terrifying. I  took a gulp  of
spirits and covered up with the coat. Wanted to go to sleep, but I couldn't.
I don't know, I was asleep, maybe I wasn't, but I had an awful dream. A long
one, mixed up, terrible and funny. It seems I was eating  a jelly, dark, not
red, but violet. An awful lot of it, so much in fact that it filled me right
up to  the ears. I  don't  remember how  long that  lasted. But as soon as I
opened my eyes, I saw that everything was empty, cold, and you weren't here.
Then suddenly he entered. My own self, like in a mirror, only without jacket
and in socks."
     Martin  listened  attentively.  Though   he  did  not  understand   the
conversation in  Russian,  he guessed that the talk was about something that
definitely interested him as  well. I took  pity  on him and  translated the
gist. He was at me all the while Vano related his story, asking for a faster
translation. But I  couldn't go that fast and only later did  I  relate  the
whole  of Vano's story. Unlike us,  Vano immediately  detected  a difference
between himself and  the guest. The drunken state had long since passed, and
fear as well, only his  head continued  to throb; the man who entered looked
at him with bull-like eyes, dull dazed eyes. "Quit this nonsense," he yelled
in  Georgian,  "I'm not  afraid of  snow maidens, I make mince meat  out  of
them!" The funniest thing was that Vano  himself had  thought  about that in
the same terms when  Zernov and Tolya had left. If  someone  were about,  he
would definitely have got into a fight. That one started to, but Vano, sober
now, grabbed his jacket and ran out of the tent, realizing  at  once that it
was better to stay as far  away as possible from such visitors. But Vano did
not stop to  think  that his very appearance  contradicted  all the familiar
laws  of  nature. What  he  needed  was an open  space to manoeuvre  in  the
impending battle. His  double had  already  whipped  out  the famous hunting
knife Vano always carried  with him to the envy of all drivers in Mirny. The
original knife was in Vano's pocket, but he did not give any thought to that
bit of strangeness either, he simply whipped it out when the drunken phantom
struck the  first  blow. Vano barely escaped a wound-the knife  went through
the  jacket. Vano threw it at  his pursuer and got as far as the wall, where
it turned to the  north.  The second blow reached him, but luckily  it was a
glancing stroke  that his  sweater softened. The third one Vano was  able to
repulse  by knocking  the  man down. What  followed he did  not remember.  A
bloody blackness fell over him and some  kind of  force, like  a shock wave,
threw  him to  the  side. When he woke up he was  in the  tent on a  cot bed
wrapped up in furs and absolutely sound in body. But the miracles continued.
This time it was Dyachuk who had a duplicate.
     Vano did  not  succeed in  finishing  the  sentence  -Tolya  threw  the
briquette (he was stoking the stove) and jumped up with a hysterical cry:
     "Stop this craziness! Do you hear?"
     "You're nuts," Vano said.
     "Well,  damn  it, I'm not alone in this.  You're crazy too. You're  all
mad. There  wasn't  anybody here except me. And nobody was split  up either.
You people are out of your minds!"
     "That's enough, Dyachuk,"  Zernov cut him short. "Behave  yourself. You
are a scientist and not a circus performer. If you can't control your
     nerves, you shouldn't have come here in the first place."
     "So  I'll  leave," Tolya  growled,  in  a much  lower  tone  this time:
Zernov's words  had  sobered him  up a bit. "I'm not Scott or Amundsen. I've
had enough of  these  white dreams, and I'm  not  heading for any nut  house
either."
     "What's the trouble with him?" Martin whispered.
     I explained:
     "If it weren't for the fuel, I'd quit too," he said. "Too many miracles
happening around here."






     We  never found  out what happened to  Tolya, but  it was  most  likely
comical. Vano brushed the matter aside with:
     "If  he  doesn't  want  to  speak,  leave  him alone. Both  of  us were
frightened  out of our wits. I don't go in for gossip." He did not make  fun
of Tolya, though the latter was ready for a quarrel any time.
     Martin and I, under  Vano's supervision, replaced the dented plastic of
the window. He couldn't do it  himself because of the wound on his hand.  It
was  also decided that  Martin  and I would  take turns helping out with the
driving. Now nothing else kept us there. Zernov considered the expedition at
an end and was in a hurry to get back to Mirny. I had a feeling he wanted to
get away from his double, he was the only one  who hadn't ' experienced this
unpleasant duplication.  In direct  : violation  of  the cast iron regime of
work  and  rest that he  himself had  set up, Zernov did not sleep all night
after  we had switched over  to  the cabin of the  tractor. I woke up a  few
times in the night and saw his night-light  on: he was obviously reading and
trembled at every suspicious noise.
     We  didn't speak  any  more  about  doubles, but  in the morning  after
breakfast, when  we  finally got under way, his face seemed to brighten  up.
Martin  was  driving,  Vano sat next to  him  on the drop-down seat and gave
instructions in  sign  language. I  knocked  out a  radiogram to  Mirny  and
exchanged jokes  with Kolya Samoilov who  was on duty at the  radio station,
and I took down the weather report. It was just right for our return: clear,
slight wind, a tiny frost of only two or three degrees below zero Celsius.
     But  the  silence  in the  cabin  hung  heavy, like the aftermath of  a
quarrel, so I began:
     "I  have  a  question,  Boris Arkadievich;  Why  don't  we  radio a few
details."
     "What would you like to add?"
     "Why,  everything that happened to me and Vano. What we found out about
the rose clouds, and what we discovered when we developed the film."
     "And how  do you suppose a story like that  should  be  written?" asked
Zernov.  "With  psychological  nuances,  an  analysis  of  sensations,  with
insinuations and so  forth? Unfortunately,  I'm  no good at  that, I'm not a
writer. I don't think you  could do it even with your imagination  and  your
weird hypotheses. Now to put all that into telegraph code would be more like
'notes from an insane asylum'."
     "We could add a scientific commentary," I persisted.
     "On  the  basis of what kind  of  experimental data?  What have we  got
except visual observations? Your film? But it hasn't even been developed."
     "What could it be, really?"
     "Well,  what  would  you  suggest?  What,  in  your  opinion is  a rose
'cloud'?"
     "An organism."
     "Living?"
     "Undoubtedly.  A  living   thinking  organism  of   a  physico-chemical
structure unknown to  us. A kind of  bio-suspension  or bio-gas. Academician
Kolmogorov postulated the possibility  of  the  existence of thinking mould.
One could imagine, with the same degree  of  probability, a  thinking gas, a
thinking colloid, or a thinking plasma. Change  of  colour  is  a protective
reaction or the colouring of emotions: surprise, interest, anger. Changes in
shape suggest motor reactions, the  ability  to  manoeuvre in aerial  space.
When a  person walks, he  moves  his  hands,  bends his feet and so  on. The
'cloud' stretches out, bends its edges, folds up into a bell."
     "What are you talking about?" asked Martin.
     I translated for him.
     "It bubbles when it breathes and throws out tentacles when it attacks,"
he added.
     "That makes it a beast, doesn't it?" asked Zernov.
     "A beast," Martin confirmed.
     Zernov was not asking idle questions.  Each one of them was directed at
a specific target, one that was not clear to me. He seemed to be checking us
and himself and was not hurrying with any conclusions.
     "All right," he said, "then answer this: How does that beast  duplicate
human beings and machines? And why does he want to do it?  Also, why does it
destroy the models after running them in a bit with human beings?"
     "I don't know," I answered honestly. "The 'cloud' synthesizes all kinds
of atomic structures, that is  clear. But the mystery is why  it does so and
why it destroys them."
     Tolya,  who  had not been  communicative  for  some  time  and for some
unknown reason, put in a word at this point:
     "I  think the  question  is not posed in the proper form. How  does  it
duplicate?  Why?  It doesn't duplicate  anything. It is  simply  an involved
illusion dealing- with sensory perceptions. It is not the  subject matter of
physics but of psychiatry."
     "And my wound is also an illusion?" Vano asked offended.
     "You hurt yourself, the  rest is  illusions. Actually, I don't  see why
Anokhin has given up his original hypothesis. Of course, this is a weapon. I
wouldn't take it upon myself to say whose-he threw a glance at Martin-but it
is undoubtedly  a weapon. A  sophisticated  and, what  is most  important, a
purposeful weapon. Psychiatric waves that split the consciousness."
     "And ice," I said.
     "Why ice?"
     "Because  the  ice  had  to  be   broken  up  in   order  to  get   the
'Kharkovchanka' machine out."
     "Look over there to the right!" Vano cried out.
     What   we   saw  through   the  port  window   stopped   the   argument
instantaneously. Martin put the brakes on. We hurriedly got into our jackets
and jumped out of the machine. I  began taking  pictures on the  run because
this promised to be one of the most remarkable of all my film strips.
     This  was  a  miracle  indeed,   a  picture   from  another  world   of
extraterrestrial life.  There were  no clouds, no snow. Nothing  interfered.
The sun hung just above  the horizon giving all the strength of its light to
the emerald-blue chunk of ice that towered  above us. An  ideally smooth cut
through the multi-metre tower  seemed to be pure  glass. No human  being, no
machine could be seen anywhere. Only gigantic  rose-coloured disks-I counted
ten or more-that delicately and soundlessly cut the ice like butter. Imagine
cutting butter with a hot knife. This was it. No friction, a  smooth, smooth
cut  with a slight fringe melting round the walls. That was exactly what was
happening  here, as the  rose knife produced the hundred-metre walls of ice.
It was in the shape of  an  irregular oval or trapezium with rounded angles;
in area it must have been over a hundred square metres. At least that was my
rough  guess.  But  very  thin,  only about  two  or three  centimetres. The
familiar  "cloud"  had obviously flattened out, elongated and converted into
an enormous cutting instrument operating with amazing speed and precision.
     Separated  by  a  distance  of  half a kilometre, two such  knives were
cutting the ice wall perpendicular to the base. Two others were cutting from
below in regular  coincident  movements of  a pendulum.  Another set of four
were  engaged close by, and a third group, that I couldn't see any more, was
operating deep inside  the ice. Soon the  second one and the one next  to us
disappeared in  the ice-like a Gulliver Travels  circus. All of a sudden, it
pushed up into  the air a perfectly blue parallelepiped of ice, a  glass bar
nearly a  kilometre  in length, geometrically flawless. It  rose  slowly and
floated upwards lightly and without a thought, like a  toy balloon. Only two
"clouds" participated in this  operation. They  contracted  and turned dark,
converting into  the familiar saucers, turned  skywards  not earth-wards-two
incredible red  giant  flowers  on invisible  expanding stems. They did  not
appear to be supporting the floating bar, for it rose above them at a decent
distance and was in no way connected or fastened.
     "How does it hold up?" Martin asked in surprise. "On a shock wave? What
force must the wind have?"
     "That's  not  the  wind," said  Tolya  picking  out his  English  words
carefully.  "That's a  field. Antigravitation." He threw an imploring glance
at Zernov.
     "A field of force," Zernov  explained. "Remember the G-loading, Martin,
when you  and  I tried  to  approach  the  airplane?  Then  it  strengthened
gravitation, now it is obviously neutralizing it."
     At  that moment  yet  another  kilometre-long bar  of ice rose from the
surface of the ice plateau, thrown into space by an invisible titan. It rose
much faster  than  its  predecessor  and  soon  caught  up with them  at the
altitude of  ordinary polar flights. One  could clearly see how the ice bars
approached  in the air, docked alongside one another,  and  merged  into one
broad bar that hung motionless in the air. This  was immediately followed by
a third, that lay down on top, then a fourth, to balance the plate.  It grew
thicker with every fresh bar: the "clouds" required three to four minutes to
cut it out of the thick continental ice  and raise it into the  sky.  As new
bars came off, the ice wall receded into the distance, and with it the  rose
clouds  too, which appeared to dissolve and vanish in the snowy distance. As
before,  two red  roses hung in the sky and above them the enormous  crystal
cube with bright sunlight filtering through.
     We  stood speechless, enchanted by this picture that was almost musical
in  its  tones.  A  peculiar  kind of  gracefulness  and plasticity  of  the
rose-coloured disc-knives, their coordinated rhythmical motions,  the upward
flight of the blue ice bars that formed a gigantic cube in the sky-all  this
was music to our ears,  a soundless music  of the mysterious spheres. We did
not  even notice -only  my cine camera recorded it-how the  diamond cube  of
sunlight began to diminish in size as it rose higher and higher, and finally
vanished way up beyond  the cirrus cloudlets. The two command "flowers" also
vanished.
     "A thousand million cubic metres of ice," groaned Tolya.
     I looked at Zernov. Our eyes met.
     "That's your answer to the main question, Anokhin," he said. "Where did
the ice wall come from and why there is so little snow under foot. They  are
removing the ice shield of the Antarctic."








     The official report of our  expedition  was:  Zernov's statement on the
phenomenon of the rose "clouds", my story about doubles (or duplicates)  and
a preview of the film I  had  taken. But Zernov had different plans from the
very beginning of the meeting. No materials for the scientific report except
personal impressions and the film taken  by the expedition, he explained; he
added that  the astronomical observations  that he  had familiarized himself
with  at  Mirny  do  not  yield any  grounds for  definite conclusions.  The
appearance  of enormous accumulations of ice in the  atmosphere at a variety
of  altitudes  was  registered,  it turns  out,  both by  Soviet and foreign
observatories in Antarctica. However, neither visual observations or special
photographs permit establishing either the quantity of these quasi-celestial
bodies  or the  direction of their flight. One  can therefore speak  only of
impressions and conjectures that sometimes go by the name of hypotheses. But
since  the  expedition  returned  three  days  ago and people are  by  habit
garrulous and curious, everything seen by the members of  the  expedition is
now known far beyond the limits of  Mirny.  It  would  naturally  be best to
engage in conjectures after viewing the film, since there will  be more than
enough material for such guesswork.
     I do not know  whom Zernov had in view when he mentioned talkativeness,
but Vano and Tolya  and I did much to excite the men and  rumours of my film
had even gotten across  the continent. A Frenchman and two Australians and a
whole group of Americans together with the retired Admiral Thompson, who has
long since  exchanged  his admiral's  galloons and shoulder straps for a fur
jacket and  polar  sweater arrived to see the film. They  had already  heard
about  the  film   and  eagerly   awaited  it,  expressing  all   manner  of
suppositions. The film,  even if I do say so, turned out to be exciting. Our
second cinema  operator, Zhenya Lazebnikov, looked at the developed film and
howled  out with envy: "That's the end. You're  famous now.  Not  even Evans
ever dreamt of a piece  like this.  You've  got both hands on  the Lomonosov
Prize right  now." Zernov did  not comment, but  leaving the  laboratory, he
asked:
     "Aren't  you a  little  bit  afraid,  Anokhin?" "Why  should  I be?"  I
countered  in surprise. "You  can't  image  the sensation  this is  going to
create."
     I  had  felt something like that when  we viewed the film at the  base.
Everybody was there who could make it, they sat and stood  till there wasn't
any more room to sit or stand. The silence was that of an empty church. Once
in a while a rumble of amazement and almost terror, when even the old-timers
of  polar  exploration  used to  quite  a bit gave  in. The  scepticism  and
disbelief that some had received our stories with disappeared on the instant
after pictures of two "Kharkovchanka" vehicles with identically dented front
windows  and  the rose cloud floating above them  in the pale  blue sky. The
frames were excellent and precisely conveyed the colour:
     the "cloud" on the screen went red, violet, changed shape, turned up in
the form of a flower, boiled and  gobbled up the  huge  machine with all its
contents. The picture of my double did not cause excitement at first and was
not convincing, for they simply took it for me myself,  though I pointed out
straightway  that to film myself and in motion too and from different angles
was simply impossible even for a Grand Master documentalist. But what really
compelled them to  believe in duplicate human  beings  were the  pictures of
Martin's double on the snow-I succeeded in getting him close up-and then the
real Martin  and Zernov approaching  the  site of the  catastrophe. The hall
buzzed  with excitement and when the crimson flower threw  out  a snake-like
tentacle and  the dead Martin vanished into its  flared  maw, somebody  even
cried  out  in the  darkness.  But  the most  striking effect,  the  deepest
impression was made  by the  concluding part of the film, its ice  symphony.
Zernov was right, 1 greatly underestimated the sensation.
     But  the  viewers gave  it its  due. The showing  was hardly over  when
voices  were  heard demanding a second showing.  This  time the  silence was
total: not a  single  exclamation resounded in the hall, nobody  coughed, no
one exchanged a single word with his neighbour, even whispering could not be
heard. The silence continued even  when the lights  went on. The people were
still in  the grip  of  events  and were released only  by the voice  of the
oldest  of  the old-timers,  the  doyen of the corps of  wintering-over men,
Professor Kedrin, who said:
     "All right, now  tell us, Boris, what you think about it. That will  be
better because we still have to think things over."
     "I've already said that we have no material witnesses," Zernov replied.
"Martin was  not  able  to get a sample: the 'cloud' did  not  allow him  to
approach. On the ground, too, we could not get close enough and were pressed
to the ground as  if our  bodies were filled with  lead. This means that the
'cloud' can set up a gravitational field. Added confirmation is the ice cube
in the air that we saw. Martin's  plane was probably landed and our  tractor
pulled out of the crevice in the same fashion. The following  inferences may
be  classed as beyond question: the 'cloud' readily  changes  its  shape and
colour.  This  you have  seen.  It  creates  any temperature  regime needed:
hundred-metre-thick ice can be cut only  by using very high temperatures. It
floats in the  air like a fish  in water  and can change direction and speed
instantaneously. Martin claims that the 'cloud'  he saw escaped from  him at
hypersonic speed. His 'colleagues' obviously went  slow simply  to create  a
gravitational barrier around the airplane.  The ultimate conclusion can only
be that the  rose 'clouds' have nothing whatsoever to do with meteorological
phenomena. This 'cloud' is either a living thinking organism or a bio system
with  a specific  programme. Its principal tasks are to remove and transport
into space enormous masses of  continental  ice. And  incidentally  for some
unknown reason and in some unknown way  it synthesizes  (I would  rather say
duplicates or models)  any  thing it encounters (atomic structures  such  as
human beings, machines and other things) and then destroys them.
     The American Admiral Thompson asked Zernov the first question:
     "There is one thing that is not clear to me from your report,  and that
is, whether these creatures are hostile or not towards human beings."
     "I do not think so. They destroy  only the copies they  themselves have
created."
     "Are you positive?"
     "But you've just seen that yourself," Zernov replied in surprise.
     "I would like to know whether you are sure that the destroyed creatures
are  definitely  copies and not the  people  themselves?  If the  copies are
identical  with the human  beings, then  who will prove  to me that my pilot
Martin is indeed my pilot Martin and not his atomic model?"
     The  exchange  was  in English but  many  in  the  hall  understood  or
translated  for  their  neighbours.  Nobody smiled, the  question was indeed
terrifying. Even Zernov seemed at a loss as he searched for an answer.
     I pulled down Martin who had jumped up and said:
     "I can assure  you, Admiral, that I am indeed I, the photography man of
the expedition, Yuri Anokhin, and not a cloud-created model. When I shot the
film, my  double retreated  to the Sno-Cat  as if  hypnotized. You could see
that on the screen. He told me that somebody or something was forcing him to
return to the cabin. Apparently he  was already prepared for elimination." I
watched  the glistening  spectacles  of the  Admiral and  almost burst  with
anger.
     "That is possible," he  said, "though it is not very convincing. I have
a question for Martin. Please stand up, Martin."
     The  pilot rose to his full  two-metre height of a  veteran  basketball
player.
     "Yes, sir. I wiped out the copy with my own two hands."
     The Admiral smiled.
     "Now suppose the copy finished you off?" He moved his lips a bit before
adding:  "You  attempted to  shoot  when  you  thought  about the aggressive
intentions of the 'cloud', right?"
     "Yes, I did, sir. Two bursts with tracer bullets."
     "Any results?"
     "No, sir, no results. Like a shot gun against an avalanche of snow."
     "Now  suppose  you  had  a  different  weapon? Say  a flame thrower  or
napalm?"
     "I do not know, sir."
     "Would it have refused to clash?"
     "I do not think so, sir."
     "Sit  down, Martin. Don't be offended, I am only trying to clarify some
of the  details of Mr. Zernov's  report  that  worry me.  Thank you for your
explanations, gentlemen."
     The persistence of  the Admiral untied all tongues.  Questions followed
one another as fast as they could be  answered, like at  a press conference.
"You said that ice masses are being transported into space. Do you  mean the
atmosphere or outer space?"
     "If  it  is into atmospheric space, I don't  see the purpose.  What  is
there to do with ice in the atmosphere?"
     "Will humanity allow for this mass-scale plundering of ice?"
     "Does anyone need glaciers here on the earth?"
     "What will happen to a continent  freed from ice? Will the level of the
ocean rise?"
     "Will the climate change?"
     "Not all at once, comrades," Zernov implored rising his arms. "One at a
time. Into what space? I assume it is cosmic space. Glaciers are only needed
in  the  terrestrial  atmosphere for  glaciologists.  Generally  speaking, I
thought scientists were people with higher education.  But judging  from the
questions, I am beginning to doubt the axiomatic nature of that proposition.
How can  the water level  in the ocean  increase if there  is no increase in
water?  That's school geography, and the  same goes for the climate question
too."
     "What, in your opinion, is the presumed structure of the 'cloud'? To me
it seemed to be
     a gas."
     "A thinking gas," someone giggled. "From what textbook is that?"
     "Are you a physicist?" Zernov asked.
     "Well, assuming that I am."
     "Suppose you write a textbook."
     "Unfortunately, I have  no  experience in  the  show business.  But  my
question is serious."
     "And I'm serious  in my  answer.  I  do not know the structure  of  the
'cloud'.  It might  even be  that the physico-chemical  structure is totally
unknown to  our science.  I think that it  is more  of a colloidal structure
than gaseous."
     "Where do you think it came from?"
     The correspondent of "Izvestia" I knew got
     "P-, "In some kind of a science fiction novel I read
     about visitors  from Pluto. Incidentally, in the Antarctic  too. Do you
really take that as a serious possibility?"
     "I  don't know. While I'm on the subject, I never said  anything  about
Pluto."
     "It may not be Pluto, what  I  meant was from outer space as such. From
some kind of stellar system. Why should they be coming to the earth for ice?
To  the  outskirts of  our  Galaxy.  There is certainly  enough  ice  in the
Universe, one could try some place a bit closer."
     "Closer to what?" Zernov asked and smiled.
     I admired him. He still retained  some humour and calm even  under this
veritable barrage of questions. He had not  made a scientific discovery, but
was only an accidental witness to a  unique,  unexplained phenomenon,  about
which  he hardly knew more than those who had seen the film. For some reason
they kept forgetting that and he patiently responded to every remark.
     "Ice is  water,"  he said in the tone of  a tired teacher  winding up a
lesson. "It  is a compound that  is not  so often met with even  in our  own
stellar  system.  We do not know whether there  is water on  Venus, there is
very little on Mars and none whatsoever on Jupiter or Uranus. And  of course
there is not  so  very much terrestrial ice in the Universe. If  I  err, the
astronomers will  correct me, but it seems  to me that cosmic  ice is merely
frozen gases: ammonia, methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen."
     "Why  doesn't anyone  ask about duplicates,  doubles?"  I whispered and
immediately got myself into a lot of work.
     Professor Kedrin recalled me:
     "I have a question for Anokhin. Did  you converse  with your duplicate?
And I wonder what
     about?" "Yes, we did, we talked about a variety of things," I said.
     "Did  you notice any difference, purely external, say,  in fine points,
in  hardly  noticeable  details?  I  refer to differences between the two of
you."
     "None in the least. Our  blood  was even  the same."  Then I  told them
about the microscope.
     "How about  memory?  Recalling things from childhood and later. Did you
check that?"
     I related everything about memory. What I couldn't understand  was what
he was trying to get at. But he .explained himself:
     "The  question  that  Admiral  Thompson  asked,  is a  disturbing  one,
frightening even, and it should put us on our guard. If duplicates  of human
beings are going to put in appearances in the future and if, say, duplicates
appear  that are  not  destroyed,  then how are  we to distinguish between a
person and his  model?  What is more,  how will  they themselves distinguish
each other? I believe that is a matter not so much of absolute identity, but
of the confidence of  each that precisely he is the real person and not  the
synthesized one."
     I recalled my own arguments with my ill-fated double and was completely
lost. Zernov saved me.
     "A curious item," he said, "the doubles always appear following one and
the same dream. The person seems to be immersed in a  red or crimson (violet
sometimes)  cold  jelly-like substance  that  is  always  very  thick.  This
undisclosed  substance  fills  the  person up  completely,  all his internal
organs, all  vessels.  I  cannot  assert definitely  that the filling  takes
place, but the person seems to be convinced of it. He lies totally incapable
of moving, as if  paralysed,  and begins to experience  sensations  akin  to
those of  one hypnotized: as  if someone invisible  were  probing  his mind,
going through 'every cell of  his brain. Then the crimson darkness vanishes,
his mind clears and his movements come back. He believes that he has  had an
absurd and horrible dream.  In a  short time, the  double is  at large.  But
after  waking up,  the person  has  had  time  to do  something  and to  say
something, to think something.  The double  does not know this. When Anokhin
woke  up  he found two  vehicles and not one, both with the same dent in the
front window and with the same welded  piece of metal on the  tractor tread.
For  his double, this  was  a  discovery. He  only  remembered what  Anokhin
remembered prior  to immersion  in  the  crimson  work.  There were  similar
discrepancies in the other cases as well. After  waking  up, Dyachuk  shaved
and cut himself. His double appeared without the cut. Chokheli went to sleep
drunk from the glass of alcohol he  had swallowed, but he got up sober, with
a clear mind.  Now the duplicate appeared before him drunk, he  could hardly
stand  up,  his eyes  were  misty, actually  he  was  in a state of delirium
tremens. I think that  in the future it  will be  precisely  this period  of
action of the person immediately after waking up from  the  'crimson  dream'
that will help, in doubtful cases, to distinguish the original from the copy
if other ways have not been found by then."
     "Did you also have a dream of that nature?" someone asked in the hall.
     "Yes, I did."
     "But you did not have a double?"
     "That is exactly  what  is  worrying me. Why  I  turned  out to  be the
exception."
     "You were not an exception," Zernov's own voice answered him.
     The  speaker stood  behind the others,  nearly in the doorway,  dressed
somewhat differently from Zernov. The other one had on a splendid grey suit,
while this one had on  an old dark-green sweater, the one Zernov always wore
on expeditions. But Zernov's padded pants  and  Canadian  fur boots, which I
envied  during our trips,  completed the  dress of the stranger. Yet  he was
hardly a stranger, when you come to  think of  it. Even I, who  had spent so
many days alongside Zernov, could not distinguish one from the other. Zernov
was on the stage, but in the doorway stood a precise, perfect copy. That  is
definite.
     The hall  gasped, somebody stood up,  looking from  one to the other in
bewilderment, someone else stood with his mouth open.  Kedrin, with puckered
eyebrows,  concentrating, examined  the double  with interest;  a snake-like
snigger appeared  on the  lips of the  American  Admiral; he  was  obviously
pleased at the  unexpected confirmation  of his  idea.  It seemed to me that
Zernov himself was  rather pleased too, the doubts and fears  of whom had so
suddenly been brought to consummation.
     "Come over here,"  he said almost gaily,  "I've  been  waiting for just
such a meeting. Let's have a talk. It'll be of interest not only to us."
     Zernov's  double unhurriedly  walked over to the stage  accompanied  by
inquisitive eyes full of excitement and interest that are accorded only rare
celebrities. He turned around, pulled up a chair and sat down near the table
at which Zernov had been carrying  on  a running commentary of the film. The
spectacle somehow seemed very natural: here were twin brothers meeting after
a long separation. The only difference was that everyone knew that there had
been  no separation and these were no brothers. Simply one of  the two was a
miracle beyond  the  comprehension  of  human beings. But which  one? Now  I
realized what Admiral Thompson meant.
     "Why didn't you show  up  during  the trip? I  was expecting  it," said
Zernov Number One.
     Zernov Number Two, perplexed, just shrugged his shoulders.
     "I remember everything prior to that rose-coloured dream. Then there is
a hiatus,  a  gap. Then  here I  am entering  this hall,  and listening  and
watching and  it seems to  me  that I  have begun to understand things."  He
looked at Zernov and smiled ironically. "How much alike we are, after all!"
     "I foresaw that," said Zernov shrugging.
     "But I  didn't. If we  had met like Anokhin and his double, I would not
have given  away  the priority. Who would have proven that  you are the real
one and I am only a reproduction? The point is that I am you, I remember all
my (or your)-now I don't even know which-life, right down to the most minute
detail,  even better than you  perhaps: most  likely a synthesized memory is
fresher.  Anton  Kuzmich-he  turned  to  the  audience-do  you remember  our
conversation   just   before   departure?   Not   about   the   problems  of
experimentation, just the words we exchanged. Do you remember?"
     Professor Kedrin was definitely perplexed:
     "I don't remember."
     "I don't either," said Zernov.
     "You  knocked your  cigarette holder on  a packet of  cigarettes," said
Zernov Number Two without the slightest touch of superiority, " and you said
'I  want  to  give  up  smoking,  Boris.  Beginning  with  tomorrow,  that's
definite'."
     Laughter broke out  because  Professor Kedrin was munching  a cigarette
that had already died out.
     "I have a question," it was Admiral Thompson.
     "I would like to ask Mr. Zernov  in the green sweater. Do you  remember
our meeting at MacMurdo?"
     "Of course," said Zernov the Second in English.
     "And the souvenir that you liked so much?"
     "Of course," Zernov Two answered. "You presented me with a fountain pen
with your initials in gold. I have it in my room, in the pocket of my summer
jacket."
     "My summer jacket," Zernov corrected him sardonically.
     "You would not have convinced me of it if I had not seen your film. Now
I know:  I did not return with you  on  the  tractor,  I  did  not meet  the
American pilot, and the death of his double I only saw in the film. I expect
the same end for myself, I foresee it."
     "Perhaps you  are an  exception," said Zernov, "it may be that you will
be granted existence."
     Now I saw the difference between them. One spoke calmly  without losing
any of his composure, the other was all  wound up inside and tense. Even his
lips trembled, as  if it were  difficult  for him  to say what his  mind was
thinking.
     "You  yourself do  not believe in  it," he said, "we  are created as an
experiment and are eliminated as a  product of the experiment. Why,  is  not
known to anyone, you or me. I remember Anokhin's story via your  memory, via
our combined memory, that is how and why I remember it." He looked at me and
inside I shuddered as I met the so familiar look. "When the cloud started to
descend,  Anokhin told  his double to run. The double refused, he could not,
he said, for something was  ordering him  to  remain. And he returned to the
cabin to die: we all saw  that. The difference is that you can  stand up and
leave, whereas I  cannot do that. Something has  already  ordered me not  to
move."
     Zernov extended his hand and it came up against an invisible barrier.
     "Nothing can be done," sadly smiled Zernov the  Double. "It's a  field,
I'm using  your  terminology, since like you I know  no other. The field has
already been set up. I'm in it like in a spacesuit."
     Somebody  sitting nearby  also  tried to  touch the synthesized man but
couldn't because his hand encountered compressed air as hard as wood.
     "It is  terrible to know of your own end and  not to  have any  way  of
putting  it off," said Zernov's counterpart. "After  all, I am a man and not
just a biological mass. I so terribly want to live-"
     The horrible silence pressed down  on the  hall. Someone  was breathing
heavily like an asthmatic. Somebody else had covered his eyes with his hand.
Admiral Thompson had taken off his glasses. I screwed up my eyes.
     Martin's hand that had been on my knee trembled.
     "Look up!" he cried.
     I looked up and froze stiff: there  was a  violet pulsating  trunk-like
affair dropping down the ceiling to  the Zernov  sitting  perfectly still in
the green sweater.  Its funnel  widened and frothed, unhurriedly but firmly,
like an empty hood, and covered up the man beneath it. A minute later we saw
something like  a  jelly  stalactite violet in  colour  that merged  with  a
similar stalagmite. The base of the  stalagmite rested on the stage near the
table, the  stalactite flowed out of the  ceiling through  the  roof and the
almost three metres of snow covering it. In another half minute the frothing
edge of the trunk, or pipe, began to turn upwards  and in the empty rosiness
of its inside we no longer could see either chair or man. In another minute,
violet foam had gone  through the roof  as  if something immaterial, without
damaging either the plastic or the thermal insulation.
     "That's all," said Zernov rising to  his feet.  "Finis, as  the ancient
Romans used to say."












     In  Moscow  I  had hard luck.  I had got through the  fierce  Antarctic
winter without even  having  sneezed in  sixty degrees  below zero, but back
here  in  Moscow  I  came  down  with  a  cold in the autumn slush when  the
thermometer had  hardly dropped  to  zero outside the window. True, by  next
Tuesday the doctor  said  I'd be  up and  around and  my own self again, but
Sunday morning I was still lying with mustard plasters on my back and unable
to go downstairs for the newspapers. Tolya Dyachuk brought me the papers. He
was my first visitor Sunday morning. And  though he did not take any part in
our  fussing   with  the  rose  clouds   and  immediately  returned  to  his
weather-forecast  institute and his charts of  the winds and cyclones, I was
sincerely happy that  he did come. The anxious events that we had  both gone
through  just  a  month  before  were still  deeply felt. And Tolya  was  an
easy-going convenient guest. One could be totally silent in his presence and
think one's own thoughts without any  risk  of offending him, and  his jokes
and  exaggerations  would never offend  his  host. So  the  guest  ensconced
himself in  a chair near the window and strummed  on  the  guitar purring to
himself one  of his own compositions  while the host lay  patiently enduring
the stings  of  the mustard  and recalling his  last day  at Mirny  and  the
try-out of the new helicopter that had just arrived from Moscow.
     Kostya Ozhogin had arrived at Mirny with a fresh group of polar workers
and had only the faintest idea about the rose clouds. Our acquaintance began
as he begged me to show him at least a little bit of my film. I showed him a
whole  reel. He  responded  by  offering me  a  seat in  the new  high-speed
helicopter  during a trial run out over the ocean. The next  morning-my last
at  Mirny-he came  over  and told  me  in secret  about  some kind  of "very
terrible thing". His  helicopter had been  out  on  the ice all night, about
fifty metres from the edge, where the ship "Ob" was moored. Here is the  way
he described it: "We  were celebrating a bit, had been  drinking,  not much,
and before going to bed I went out to take a look at the machine. There were
two there,  one next to the other.  I  figured another one had been unloaded
and went back to sleep. In  the morning there was only one again. So I asked
the engineer where the other one had gone, and he  burst out laughing. 'Hey,
you drank too much, you were seeing double. How much did you guys put away?'
"
     I was rather suspicious about the true criminals of this splitting, but
I didn't say anything.  What I did  was I brought along  my camera,  I had a
hunch  it  might come  in useful. Which it did.  We were about three-hundred
metres above the ocean at the very edge of the ice. We could clearly see the
unloaded boxes and machines, the small pieces of broken ice at the shore and
the  blue  icebergs out in the  pure water.  The  biggest  towered up  a few
kilometres from the coast line, but did not float or bob on the waves-it was
sitting firmly in the water fixed securely to the  bottom. We called it 'The
End of  the Titanic' in memory  of  the famous  liner that  collided with  a
colossal iceberg at the beginning of the  century. This one was even larger.
Our glaciologists  calculated  that it was  roughly  three  thousand  square
kilometres in area. That  was the goal of the  Disney  characters  that  had
stretched out single file across the sky.
     I began to  film without waiting for a close approach. They were flying
at the  same altitude  as we were, they were rose-coloured without  a single
spot and resembled  dirigibles at the  tail end  of a column. From the front
they  were  like  boomerangs  or swept-back  airplane wings.  "Shall we turn
back?" said Ozhogin in a whisper. "We can put on speed." "Why?" I sniggered.
"You  can't  get  away from them  anyway."  I  could sense  the  tension  in
Ozhogin's  muscles,  but  I didn't  know  whether  it  was  due to  fear  or
excitement. He asked: "Are they going to start splitting?" "No, they're  not
going  to." "How do you know?" "Because they duplicated your helicopter last
night, you yourself saw it," I replied. He didn't say anything.
     Meanwhile the column had approached  the iceberg. Three rosy dirigibles
hung  in the air, getting redder and opening  up  their familiar saucer-like
stemless poppies, motionless at the corners of an enormous triangle over the
island of ice;  then the swept-wing boomerangs plunged downwards. They  went
into the water like fish, no  splash, no  sound, only  white spurts of steam
encircled the iceberg. Probably  the temperature gradient  between  the  new
substance  and  the  water  was  too great. Then  all was calm. The  poppies
flowered over the island and the boomerangs, disappeared. I waited patiently
while the helicopter slowly circled over the iceberg a bit below the poppies
hanging in the sky.
     "What's  going  to  happen now?"  Ozhogin asked hoarsely. "Is  this the
end?" "I don't think so," I replied cautiously. About ten minutes  must have
passed. Suddenly the mountain of ice shook mightily and then slowly rose out
of the water. "Let's go," I yelled to Kostya.  He understood and  swung  our
plane to  the side,  away from the dangerous orbit. The bluish hunk of  ice,
scintillating in the sun, had already risen above the water. It was so large
that it was  difficult to find any  comparison. Imagine an enormous mountain
cut off at  the base and rising upwards like a toy  balloon. It gleamed  and
glistened shimmering in a million colours of molten  sapphires  and emeralds
sprinkled all over  it. This was  a  scene  you could sell your soul  to the
devil for. I  was the king. Only Ozhogin  and I and the astronomers of Mirny
witnessed this incomparable  spectacle. A  miracle  of ice  rose  out of the
water,  came to a  halt over the  three crimson poppies and then hurtled off
into the depths of cosmic space. The "boomerangs" slithered out of the water
in a  jet  of steam and turned towards  the continent  in regular order. The
route lay through the foam of cumulus clouds. Like horsemen they galloped.
     Horsemen!
     The simile came later, and it  was  not concocted by me but right now I
heard it from Tolya strumming on his guitar.
     "Do you like it?" he asked.
     "Like what?"
     "The song, naturally," he explained.
     "What song," I still couldn't get it all straight.
     "So you  weren't listening," he sighed.  "Exactly what I  thought. I'll
have to sing it again."
     He started up in his long drawn out talk-sing voice, like a chansonnier
without a voice that hangs onto the microphone for dear life.  I didn't know
then what an envious fate awaited this composition of accidental celebrity.
     "Horsemen from nowhere, what's that? A  dream? A myth? All of a sudden,
while  awaiting  a wonder ...  the world froze silently still.  And over the
rhythmical drone and pulse of  the world, horsemen  from nowhere pranced  by
... True, the idea is not new and the theme of the tragedy is simple. Hamlet
again  solving  the eternal problem. Who  are they? Human  beings? Gods? The
snow melts slowly,  and again the Earth is anxious,  there  is no  breathing
spell-"
     He paused for a moment and then continued in a major key.
     "Who will recognize  them?  And  will we be able to  grasp  them? It is
late, my  friend, it is late, and there is  no  one we can  blame.  Only the
difficult thing  to grasp,  my  friend,  is that  there  they are  again-the
horsemen from nowhere prancing by in ordered array."
     He sighed  and  glanced  in  my  direction  waiting for  some  sign  of
appreciation.
     "Not so bad," I said, "As a song goes, but-"
     "But what?" he queried guardedly.
     "Where does the  Spanish sadness come from?  Why the pessimism?" And  I
started, 'It  is late, my friend, it is late,' "Why  late? And what is late?
And  what's this about blame?  Are  you sorry about the ice, or the doubles?
Better take off this mustard plaster, it's not burning any more."
     Tolya peeled it off my suffering back and said:
     "Incidentally, they've been seen in the Arctic too."
     "That must be terrifying, those horsemen from nowhere."
     "You said  it. In Greenland they've been cutting up ice  too. Telegrams
have come in."
     "So what, it might get warmer, that's all."
     "But  what if  they take all  the  ice there  is on  the  Earth? In the
Arctic, the Antarctic, in the mountains and the oceans?"
     "You ought to know, you're the climatologist.  I guess we'll be able to
fish for sardines in the White Sea and plant oranges in Greenland."
     "In theory," Tolya sighed. "Who can  predict what will  really  happen?
Nobody. It's not the ice that worries me. You read what Thompson has to say.
TASS has given it in full." He pointed to a bunch of papers.
     "Getting panicky?"
     "That's not the word!"
     "He was nervous enough there in Mirny, remember?"
     "Yea, he's a tough nut. He'll keep things mixed up for quite some time.
For both sides.  By  the way,  he was the one  who used the phrase Lysov-sky
coined: 'horsemen from nowhere'."
     "Horsemen from nowhere? But that's what you thought up," I recalled.
     "Yes, but who multiplied it?"
     Special correspondent of "Izvestia" Lysovsky, returning from Mirny, was
the author of an article dealing with the rose "clouds" that was taken up by
all the newspapers  of the world. That's what he called  them: horsemen from
nowhere. Tolya was the real inventor, though. He  was the one who yelled out
"horsemen, really, horsemen". "Where  from?"  someone asked. "I  don't know,
from nowhere." Then  Lysovsky repeated it aloud: "Horsemen from nowhere. Not
bad for a headline."
     Tolya and I looked at each other. That's exactly the way it had been.







     What  actually  happened?  Our  jet  liner was in  flight from  the ice
aerodrome of Mirny to the shores of South Africa.
     Below us were white wisps of  cloud like a field of snow near a railway
station:  locomotive soot sprinkled about on  fresh  snow. The clouds  moved
apart occasionally and windows would open up displaying the steel surface of
the ocean far below.
     All of  us  who had gotten used to one another during  the  winter were
gathered in  the  cabin-  geologists,  pilots,  glaciologists,  astronomers,
aerologists. Our guests were only a few newspaper reporters, but it was soon
quite forgotten that  they were guests and they gradually  dissolved into  a
homogeneous  mass of Antarctic workers of yesterday. The talk turned  to the
rose clouds, of course, but not seriously, in a bantering  manner with jokes
and wisecracks most of the time. The usual excited cabin conversations  of a
home-returning trip.
     All  of  a sudden  some rose-coloured "boomerangs" appeared out  of the
clouds, jumping in and out  like horsemen in the  steppe. That was when  the
"horsemen" phrase came up, though they naturally had been compared with most
anything because  they  were  constantly  changing  shape,  which  they  did
instantaneously  and for reasons that we  could not fathom. That is  exactly
what  happened  this time  too.  Six or seven  of  them,  I  don't  remember
precisely,  rose  up in front  of  us, spread out  in  the  form  of crimson
pancakes and  enveloped the plane in an impenetrable crimson cocoon.  To the
credit of our pilot, it must be said, he did not falter but continued to fly
as if nothing had happened: if it's got to be a cocoon, then let it be one!
     An ominous  silence set in in the cabin. Everyone expected something to
happen, glanced from one  to the other, and feared to speak at all.  The red
fog seeped through the walls.  Nobody could figure out how that could be. It
would  seem that no  material barriers existed, or that it was  nonmaterial,
illusory,  existing only in one's imagination. But it soon filled the  cabin
and only strange crimson spots  revealed the passengers in front or  behind.
"Do you know  what this's all about," I heard the voice of Lysovsky from the
other  side  of the aisle.  "You  don't  happen  to feel  as if someone were
looking into your brain and  going  right  through you, do you?" That was my
question  in  reply to his question.  He was  silent  for a  moment probably
trying to figure  out  whether I  was  going mad  from fear,  and then added
hesitatingly:  "Nn-o,  I don't  think so." Then somebody next to  him  said:
"It's just a  fog, that's all." I didn't think so either. What was happening
in the plane didn't at all resemble the sensations in the tractor and in the
tent. In the former case somebody or something peered deep inside me, probed
imperceptibly  in  my body as if determining the arrangement  and number  of
particles that make up my bioessence, in this way reproducing a model of me;
in  the latter case, the process had stopped half way, as if the creator  of
the model knew that my model had already been made. I was now surrounded  by
a fog, crimson-like, just as opaque as  turbid water in a jar,  neither cold
nor warm and totally imperceptible, for it did not smart my eyes nor  tickle
the nose.  It coursed round  me and did not  even appear  to touch the skin,
then  it  gradually  melted or  floated away.  I  soon  began  to see hands,
clothes, the seats and people sitting  in  them nearby. Then I heard a voice
from behind:
     "How  long did that take? Did you notice?"  "No, I  didn't look  at  my
watch,  I  don't know." Neither  did  I know,  it might have  been  three or
perhaps ten minutes.
     This  was when we  saw something still  more  bizarre. Squint, pressing
your eyes  strongly  on  the  lids,  and objects will appear  to double  up,
producing, as  it were, a  copy that floats  away  out of the field of view.
That  is what happened to all the things in the aircraft,  everything in our
field of  view.  Not hazily, but very clearly, I saw-later I  found out that
everyone  saw the same thing-a  duplicate of our cabin  and all its contents
gradually separate itself-the floor, the windows, seats and  passengers.  It
rose half a meter and then floated off.  I saw myself, Tolya and his guitar,
Lysovsky, and I  noticed Lysovsky trying to  grab his reproduction  that was
floating away. All he  got  was the air. I saw the outside of the cabin, not
the inside; I saw the outer wall go right through the real wall, followed by
the wing that slipped  through us  like an  enormous shadow of the aircraft.
Then all this vanished from view as if it  had evaporated in the air. Yet it
did not vanish and it did not evaporate. We rushed to the windows and saw an
identical copy of our plane flying alongside, absolutely identical, just off
the  production  line, but  it  was  no illusory  machine  because  Lysovsky
collected his wits fast enough to take a photograph, which was published and
definitely showed the  new plane  to  be a duplicate of our liner taken at a
distance of 10 metres.
     Unfortunately,  what happened later was not photographed. Lysovsky  ran
out  of film  and I was late in getting to  my camera, which had been stowed
away.  This  was the  aerial  wonder  that was enacted before  our  eyes:  a
familiar crimson  cocoon  enveloped the  duplicate plane, elongated, growing
dark red, then violet and then  melted away. Nothing  remained-no plane,  no
cocoon. Only the whitish wisps of cloud floating below us as before.
     The chief pilot stepped  out of  the pilot's cabin a few minutes  later
and  asked  shyly:  "Perhaps someone can  explain what  occurred just  now."
Nobody  volunteered, he  waited a  moment and then added, with  an  ironical
sting: "That's scientists for you. Wonders, miracles-but we're told miracles
just don't happen." Someone put in: "I  guess they  do." Everybody  laughed.
Then Lysovsky turned to Zernov: "Perhaps Comrade Zernov has an explanation?"
"I'm  no god or  oracle,"  Zernov replied  gruffly. "The 'clouds' produced a
duplicate plane, that you all saw. I  don't know  any more than you do about
the how and why  of it all." "Am I to write that?" asked Lysovsky. "Sure, go
ahead and write it," Zernov cut him off and fell silent.
     He brought up the subject once  more, after we  landed in Karachi, when
we had  both forced our way through the  crowds of newsmen  that had come to
meet us: our radio operator  had sent a radiogram  about  the event from the
plane. While newsmen with cameras attacked the crew of our plane, Zernov and
I slipped  through  to the  cafe for a bite and a drink. I recall asking him
something,  but he did  not answer. Later, as if answering anxious  thoughts
and not me, he said:
     "That's a totally  different method of model-building, the procedure is
quite different."
     "You speaking about the 'horsemen'?"  I asked. "That word would stick,"
he smiled ironically. "Everywhere, both here and in the West too, I imagine.
You'll  see. Yet  the duplication  procedure was absolutely unlike  anything
ever," he added deep in thought.
     I didn't get it: "The plane, you mean?"  "Don't think  so. The airplane
was  probably   duplicated   in  full.  And  in  the  same   manner.   First
nonmaterially, illusorily, and  then materially- that  is  the entire atomic
structure  with exactitude. People are handled differently:  only the  outer
form, the shell, the function of the passenger. What does a passenger do? He
sits in his seat,  looks out the window, drinks juice and turns the pages of
a  book.  I  hardly  think the  psychic workings of  the human  beings  were
reproduced in all their complexity. Of  course that is not necessary anyway.
What was needed was a living, acting model of  the  aircraft with living and
acting passengers. That's only a surmise naturally."
     "But  what's the  idea  of  destroying the model?"  "Why are duplicates
eliminated?" was Zernov's counter query.  "Remember the farewell of my twin?
I still can't get it out of my mind."
     He fell  silent and stopped answering my questions. It was only when we
left the restaurant and were  passing by Lysovsky  surrounded by  at least a
dozen foreign newspaper men that Zernov smiled and said:
     "He's sure to serve up some 'horsemen' for them. It'll get  around, you
just  wait. They'll have the Apocalypse  and  pale horsemen and  black  ones
carrying  death.  Oh, there'll be everything. You know your  Bible? Well, if
you don't, read it and compare when the time comes."
     His prediction came true  in every detail.  I nearly jumped out  of bed
when, together with telegrams about  the appearance of rose utfuds in Alaska
and in the Hymalayas, Dyachuk read me a translation of an article by Admiral
Thompson from a New York paper. Even the terminology that Zernov had laughed
at coincided fully with that of the Admiral.
     Wrote  the Admiral: "Somebody  gave them a catchy name, the 'horsemen',
but, whoever  it was,  failed to  hit the  bull's  eye.  They  are no simple
horsemen,  they  are horsemen  of  the  Apocalypse,  This  is no  accidental
comparison. Recall the words of the prophet:
     ".. .and I looked,  and behold a  pale horse; and his name  that sat on
him  was  Death, and Hell followed  with him. And power was given  into them
over the fourth part of the earth, to kill  with sword, and with hunger, and
with death...."
     Fellow Americans  will  have  to excuse  me  if  I  resort more  to the
terminology  of a Catholic Church Cardinal than  to  that of a retired  navy
man. But I'm  compelled  to, for humanity is meeting  these uninvited guests
with  much too  much complacency."  The Admiral was  not  interested to know
where they came from, Sirius or Alpha Centauri. Neither was he worried about
the terrestrial ice that was being carried off into outer space. What he was
afraid of  were  the duplicates.  Even  back  in Mirny he  had  doubts about
whether  the duplicates or real human beings were being  destroyed. Now this
same idea was expressed aggressively and with assurance:
     "... the duplicates and humans would appear to be completely identical.
The same exterior, the  same  memory and the same thinking  process. But who
will prove to me that  the identity  of thinking has no  limits beyond which
begin subservience  to the  will of the creators."  The more  I listened the
more astonished  I was  at the author's  fanatical bias: he  even rejected a
neutral study  and  observation and  demanded a most energetic attack on the
visitors to expel them with all the means at our disposal. The article ended
with  a  completely  bizarre supposition:  "If  I suddenly  betray myself by
recanting what I have  just  written, then I  am the duplicate  and I myself
have been substituted. Then you can hang me on the first street lantern."
     It was not  only the meaning that was remarkable, but the very tone  of
the article. Those given to believing sensational news items might indeed be
thoroughly frightened  by this apparently sensible but definitely prejudiced
man.  What  is  more, it might be  utilized  for  very  unseemly purposes by
unscrupulous people in politics and in science. It is  to the credit  of the
Admiral  that he did not seek their support and  did  not borrow any weapons
from the arsenal of anticommunism.
     When I explained my reasoning to Tolya, he said:
     "The  Admiral's  article  is  only  a  special problem. Something quite
different  arises,  if  you  ask  me.  Up  till  now,  when   scientists  or
science-fiction writers touched on the probability of encounters  with other
intelligence in outer space, they were interested in the problem of friendly
or hostile attitudes of such intelligence towards terrestrial humans. But it
never entered anyone's mind to ponder the  possibility of a hostile attitude
of  humans towards  such intelligence.  Yet that is precisely  the  problem.
Switch on your transistor at night  and you'll  go crazy. The whole world is
excited,  it's   on  every  wavelength.  The   Pope,  ministers,   senators,
astrologers-they're  all working  the  waves.  Flying  saucers  are nothing.
Parliaments are being questioned."
     That  was  something  to  think about indeed. Tolya  occasionally  said
sensible things.







     The  problem that  Tolya had  brought  up  was discussed  at  a special
session  of the Academy  of Sciences, I was present as the person who filmed
the  space visitors. A  lot  was said, but  probably  the most  talked-about
subject was the nature of the  phenomenon and  its peculiarities. This again
launched me into the orbit of rose "clouds".
     I arrived at the meeting about an hour  before time so as  to check the
projector, the screen and the sound. The film now had an  accompanying text.
In the conference hall I found the stenographer Irene Fateyeva, who had been
spoken  of as the future secretary of a special commission to  be  set up by
the session. I was  also  warned that  she was a cobra, a  polyglot  and  an
I-know-it-all  type.  You  can  ask her what  would  happen if you  dipped a
solution of potassium chloride on an exposed brain  and she'll give  you the
answer, so they  say. Or you can  ask about the fourth  state of  matter, or
what  topology  does, and she has answers. But I didn't ask about  anything.
All I needed was to look at her once, and I believed it.
     She  had  on   a  dark  blue  sweater  with  a  very  strict   abstract
ornamentation, and her hair was done in  a  tightly bound bun, though it was
not  at  all  the  fashion  of the  19th  century.  She wore  dark,  narrow,
rectangular frameless eyeglasses. The eyes that peered from behind them were
clever, attentive,  demanding. True, I didn't  see the eyes when I came  in:
she was writing in a notebook and did not lift her head.
     I coughed.
     "Don't cough, Anokhin, and don't stand in  the middle of the room," she
said  without lifting her head,  "I know you,  I know all about  you, so  we
don't have to get  acquainted formally. Sit down some  place and wait a  few
minutes till I get this synopsis finished."
     "What's a synopsis?" I asked.
     "Don't try to be more ignorant than you  already are. You don't have to
know the synopsis of the session, since you weren't invited."
     "To what?" I asked again.
     "To the Council of Ministers. We showed your film there yesterday."
     I knew about  that  but didn't  say anything.  The  rectangular glasses
turned in my direction. I thought she would be prettier without spectacles.
     She removed her glasses.
     "Now's when I'm beginning to believe in telepathy," I said.
     She rose. She was really tall, like a basketball player.
     "So you've  come to  check up on the apparatus, Anokhin, the tension of
the screen and the volume control for sound? That's all been done."
     "Listen, what's topology any way?" I asked.
     The eyes behind the  glasses  did  not have time to  reduce me to ashes
because some  of  the conferees had come in.  No one was going to be late to
the  show.  The quorum was  there  in  a quarter of  an hour.  There was  no
preamble. The chairman asked Zernov whether  there would  be an introductory
word? "What for?" was the  question in reply. Then the lights went  out  and
the blue sky of the Antarctic came on the screen and a crimson bell began to
swell up.
     This time I did not need to  give  the commentary because it  had  been
recorded.  Unlike the showing at Mirny that  was watched in a tense silence,
this meeting  more resembled a group of friends watching TV. Time and  again
remarks came right on the heels of the announcer, some humorous, others only
comprehensible to the initiated of the  particular science; at other  times,
they were  like the piercing  thrusts of a fencer. Then  again, light banter
came in.  I remembered a bit. When the crimson flower swallowed my duplicate
together with the tracked vehicle, somebody's gay bass voice exclaimed:
     "Who claims man as the crown of creation, raise your hand!"
     There was laughter. The same voice continued:
     "Bear  in  mind one  undebatable  thing: no model-building  system  can
construct a model of a structure that is more complicated than itself."
     When the edge of the flower turned up and frothed, I heard:
     "Foam,  isn't  it? What  are the  components? Gas?  Liquid? What's  the
foam-forming substance?"
     "Are you sure that that is foam?"
     "I'm not sure of anything."
     "Maybe it's plasma at low temperature?"
     "Plasma's a gas, so what would contain it?"
     "A magnetic trap. A magnetic field can generate the needed walls."
     "Nonsense,   colleague.   Why  doesn't  a   dispersed   aphemeral   gas
disintegrate or drift  away under the action of  a field?  The point is that
it's  not a forceless field in the sense that it  does not strive to  change
its form."
     "How do you think clouds of interstellar gas form magnetic fields?"
     Another voice in the dark said:
     "The field pressure is variable. Hence the variability of form."
     "The form, yes, but the colour?"
     I was sorry I  had not brought along a tape recorder. But then the hall
was silent for  a few  moments:  the screen  displayed another giant  flower
eating up  an  aircraft, and a violet snake-like  tentacle  was tackling the
senseless model of  Martin. It was still pulsating above the snow when, from
the dark, a voice called out:
     "I have a question  to ask the authors of the plasm hypothesis.  So you
think both the airplane and the man burnt up in the gas jet, in the magnetic
trap?"
     Laughter from in front. Again I regretted forgetting the tape-recorder.
"Fire" was being exchanged again.
     "Mystical, if you ask me. Improbable."
     "No mysticism is needed to  recognize a possibility as improbable.  All
you need is mathematics."
     "Paradox. And yours?"
     "Mathematics  is what we need  here more  than physics. A mathematician
would do more."
     "Just what do you picture him doing?"
     "He doesn't need any samples, just more pictures. And what will he see?
Geometric  figures  distorted  in  all  manner of ways, no  tearing  and  no
folding. Strictly problems in topology."
     "Excuse me,  but who's going to solve the problem of the composition of
the rose-coloured bio-mass?"
     "So you consider it a mass?"
     "I cannot, on the basis of these coloured pictures, consider it to be a
thinking organism."
     "Processing of information is obvious."
     "Processing of information does not yet make it a synonym of thinking."
     This  tit-for-tat continued. The  hall  got really excited when the ice
symphony came on-clouds sawing, huge bars of ice rising in the blue sky.
     "Look at them  stretch, will you!  A kilometre-long  pancake out  of  a
three-metre cloudlet."
     "That's not a pancake, it's a knife."
     "I don't get it."
     "Why?  Only  one gram  of  substance  in  a  colloidal  dispersed state
possesses a vast surface area."
     "So it's a substance?"
     "It's hard  to make a  definite statement.  What kind of  data have we?
What do they say about the biosystem? How does it react  to the environment?
Only via a field? And what controls it?"
     "And to that  the  question of where  it gets  its power. Where does it
store the energy? What kind of transformers ensure conversion?"
     "Then there's the ..."
     That was the end of  the film, no more commentary, the  lights  went up
and there was  total silence, the  light seeming  to  call for the customary
cautiousness in  judgements. The chairman,  Academician  Osovets, caught the
mood immediately:
     "This is not a symposium, comrades, and not a meeting of academicians,"
he  reminded them  in calm  tones.  "We  who  are gathered here  represent a
special committee  set  up by the  Government  with the  following aims:  to
determine  the nature of the  rose 'clouds', their purpose in coming to  the
earth,  the aggressiveness  or friendliness  of  their  intentions,  and  to
contact  them  in some  way  if they turn out to  be  intelligent,  thinking
creatures. However, what we have seen does not yet permit us to  come to any
definite conclusions or decisions."
     "Why?" came a voice  from  the hall, a  familiar bass voice. "How about
the  film? The  first  conclusion  is  that  it  is  an  excellent piece  of
scientific  filming. Invaluable material to start the work. And also a first
decision: show the film here and in the West."
     All this, I must admit, was very pleasant to hear. And just as pleasant
was the Chairman's reply:
     "The film was appraised in like manner by the Government as well. And a
similar  resolution  has already  been  passed. Colleague Anokhin  has  been
included  in the working group of our  committee. Still  and  all, the  film
fails  to  answer many  of our  questions: whence, from what  corner  of the
universe did these  creatures come,  what forms  of life are they  (they can
hardly be protein-based), what  is their physico-chemical structure, and are
they  living  beings,  intelligent  creatures  or  bio-robots with  specific
programmes of action? Many more questions might be asked,  some of them will
not get answers. Now, at least. But we can conjecture and construct  certain
working  hypotheses,  and  publish  them,  and  not only in  the  scientific
journals-in  all  countries of the world people want  to know about the rose
'clouds'  not  from  fortune-tellers  but  in the form of  solid  scientific
information,  at  least  within the limits of what we  already  know and can
safely conjecture. We  could, say,  speak  of the possibilities of  contact,
about changes  in the terrestrial climate associated with  the  loss of ice,
and,  what is most important, we might find counter-arguments to the idea of
the  aggressive nature of this  as  yet unknown civilization in the form  of
facts and proof of its loyalty to human civilization."
     "Incidentally,"  began a  scientist sitting next  to Zernov, "one thing
might  be added to  what has  been said in the press.  There is very  little
deuterium in ordinary water, but ice and melted snow contain a still smaller
percentage, which means they are biologically more active. It is also a fact
that   water  acted  upon  by  a  magnetic  field  changes  its  fundamental
physico-chemical  properties. Now terrestrial  glaciers represent water that
has already been subjected to the earth's magnetic  field. It might possibly
be-who knows -that this will shed some light on the aims of the new-comers."
     "Actually,  I'm  interested  more  in their  other  aim,  though  I'm a
glaciologist," Zernov remarked.  "Why  they  construct models of  everything
they see  is understandable; such specimens would be useful in the study  of
terrestrial life. But why do they destroy them?"
     "I'll risk an  explanation,"  Osovets let his eyes stray over the hall.
Like  a lecturer who  is asked  a question, he did not answer  Zernov alone.
"Suppose that they carry with them not a  model but only the notation of its
structure. And to obtain such, let  us say it is required to break the model
down, to decompose it  into its molecular constituents, perhaps even down to
the atomic level. They do not wish to  harm human beings and destroy them or
the creatures they construct. Hence the synthesis and subsequent elimination
(after a trial) of the model."
     "That  makes them friends and  not  aggressors,  doesn't  it?"  someone
asked.
     "Yes,  that's what  I think,"  the Academician  answered with  caution.
"We'll just have to live and see."
     There were  a lot of questions, some I understood, others I forgot. But
one of Irene's questions posed to Zernov I did remember.
     "Professor,  you said  that they  construct  models of all things. That
they see. Where are their eyes? How do they see?"
     The answer came not from Zernov but from a physicist next to him.
     "Eyes are not obligatory," he explained. "They can reproduce any object
via photography. Say, create a light-sensitive  surface just as  they create
any field, and then focus light on it reflected from the object. That's all.
Of  course, that is only one  of a number of possible suppositions. We might
presume an acoustic 'tuning' of a similar kind and an  analogous 'tuning' to
odours."
     "I  am convinced  that they see everything, hear  and sense  all things
much   better   than  we   do,"   said  Zernov   with   a  strange  kind  of
ceremonious-ness.
     This time nobody even  smiled. Zernov's  remark appeared to  sum up all
that had been  seen and heard,  and revealed  to all present the  tremendous
significance of what had to be thought over and comprehended.







     After Tolya had left I remained standing at  the window,  my eyes glued
to the snowed-over asphalt  driveway that connected my entrance door to  the
gates at the street.  I was  hoping that Irene might come. Theoretically she
could have,  not out  of any tenderness  of  heart,  naturally,  but  simply
because otherwise she could not give me any news or instructions since I had
no  telephone.  We  were now connected  by  a  range  of  business.  She was
secretary  of  this special  committee and I was an expert with a variety of
duties from press attache to projectionist. Then  we had a  joint assignment
to go to Paris  to an international meeting of scientists devoted  to  those
same rose  "clouds"-that impenetrable phenomenon the whole world was talking
about.  Academician Osovets was head of the delegation and Zernov and I were
going as witnesses of the fact, while Irene  was in the  more modest, though
probably even more important role of  secretary-translator with a  knowledge
of   six  languages.  Also  in  the  delegation  was  Rogovin,  world-famous
physicist-the bass voice that had so intrigued  me  during our first showing
of the film. The  assignment was getting under way, all  the  documents were
ready and only a few days  were left before our departure. There were oodles
of  things to do, all the more so since Zernov had left for Leningrad to see
his family and would be back any day now.
     But, honestly, that was  not  the reason I  wanted to see  Irene. I had
simply  grown lonely for her during my week of confinement. I wanted to hear
her  sharp ironical thrusts, even see her dark rectangular glasses that took
away some portion of her charm and femininity. I was openly drawn to her-was
it  friendship  or infatuation,  or  perhaps a vague,  almost  imperceptible
something that attracts  one  person  to another and is so acutely felt when
that person is absent. "Do you like her?" I asked myself. "Very much." "What
is it,  love?" "Don't  know." Sometimes  I have difficulty  with her  and at
times she makes me mad.  At some point the attraction turns  into repulsion,
and one wants  to say something  to hurt.  That  may  be because we  are  so
different.
     Then  the  difference sharpens to a razor-edge: as she has  put it,  my
education  is a  salad made up of Kafka, Hemingway and Bradbury; my reply to
that is that  hers is a minced pie  out of last year's "Technology  for  the
Youth" magazine. Then  again I'd just as soon compare her to a dried fish or
the Laputan experts. Her response  to that  is that she condescends to place
me with the lower primates. Still  and  all, we  have some things in common.
Then we seem to be gay and excited when together.
     This  is  a  strange, amusing friendship that was struck up just  after
that memorable film showing at the  Academy of Sciences. I continued sitting
in  the  corner until all the  big  and little  scientists had left and  the
lights were  out. I picked up all the parts and pieces of my equipment,  put
them into a bag and sat down again.
     Irene looked at me, without speaking, through her dark glasses.
     "You're not a duplicate by any chance?" she asked.
     "I certainly am," I agreed. "How did you guess?"
     "By the actions  of normal  human beings. A  normal person, not  loaded
down with a higher education, would long ago have left,  without waiting for
the meeting  to come to an  end. Now  here  you are, sitting, listening,-why
don't you get a move on?"
     "I'm studying terrestrial life," I said importantly. "We duplicates are
self-programmed systems  that vary the programme as we go along depending on
the subject, on whether it is worth studying."
     "You mean me, I'm the subject?"
     "Astounding guess work on your part."
     "The session is over. Consider that you've completed the study."
     "That's right, now I'll order a model of you with certain corrections."
     "Without glasses?"
     "That's  not  all.  Without   stuck-up   superiority   and  priest-like
magnificence. Just an  ordinary girl with your wit and face that I'd like to
invite to the movies or for a walk."
     I hoisted my bag and went to the exit.
     "I like movies and walks," she added after me.
     I turned round.
     Then the next day  I returned all spruced up like a diplomatic attache.
She was typing something. I said hello and sat down at her desk.
     "What do you want?" she asked.
     "Looking for work."
     "Haven't they assigned you to us yet?"
     "They're doing it."
     "You have to go through personnel ..."
     "Personnel  for  me  is nothing," I dismissed  the matter  curtly. "I'm
interested in the day-before-yesterday's minutes."
     "What for? You wouldn't understand anything in them any way?"
     "For one thing, the resolutions passed by the meeting," I  continued in
a  highfalutin  manner, paying no  attention to her thrusts, "insomuch as we
have information  that four expeditions are being outfitted  for the Arctic,
the Caucasus, Greenland and the Himalayas."
     "Five," she corrected me. "The fifth is the Fedchenko glacier."
     "I'd choose Greenland," I remarked rather by the way.
     Then she laughed, as  if dealing with a member of the school chess team
who is asking for a match with the world champion. I felt lost, of a sudden.
     "And where to?"
     "Nowhere."
     I missed the point.
     "Why? Every expedition needs a cameraman."
     "I don't like to disappoint you, Yuri, but we don't need one." There'll
be scientists  and technicians  of a  number of specialized institutes.  The
NIKFI for  instance. And don't look at me with those kind ram's  eyes.  Note
that I  didn't  say 'stupid'  eyes.  I simply  ask you:  can you operate  an
introscope?  No. Can  you photo from behind a  wall of  opaqueness,  say  in
infrared rays?  No. Can you convert the invisible  into the visible with the
aid  of an electronic-acoustic transducer? No, again. I  can read it on your
carefully shaven face. So you didn't have to shave, after all."
     "All  right, but how about ordinary camera work?" I still couldn't make
it out. "Just common filmus vulgaris?"
     "For filmus vulgaris all one needs is  a kid's camera. That's not  done
any more. More important is to get an image in opaque media, from  outside a
cloud cover. For example, what happens to a model inside the crimson tube?"
     I  was  silent.  For  an  ordinary  cameraman,  that  was  differential
calculus.
     "So you see, Yuri," she laughed. "You can't do anything. You don't know
the Kirlian method, do you?"
     I had never even heard of it.
     "Incidentally,   it   permits   distinguishing  the  living   from  the
nonliving."
     "I can do that without a camera."
     But she had already taken up the pose of lecturer.
     "On  film,   living   tissue  is  seen   surrounded  by  a  transparent
halo-discharges  of high-frequency currents. The more  intensive  the  vital
activities, the brighter the halo."
     "It's living tissue if it's  naked," I said angrily and got up. "Forget
about  personnel. I  don't  have  anything  to do  in that department.  Here
either."
     She laughed, but this time differently: gaily and kindly.
     "Sit down, Yuri, and don't be down-hearted, we'll go together."
     "Where to?" I was still boiling. "Moscow suburbs?"
     "No, to Paris."
     I didn't believe  that sly little devil of a girl till I saw the actual
paper  for our assignment to  the Paris conference.  And  now, here,  I  was
waiting for the same devil, waiting for the angel, and chewing match  sticks
with impatience. And I would just miss  her when I went over to the desk for
cigarettes. She  phoned  when I was already making plans to throw the  whole
thing over.
     "Jesus," I exclaimed, "finally!"
     She tossed me her raincoat and danced into the room.
     "Have you become a believer?"
     "From  this minute I believe  in the angel who  brings forgiveness from
heaven. When's it going to be? Don't keep me waiting."
     "The day  after tomorrow. Zernov returns tomorrow.  The next morning we
take off. The tickets have been ordered. By  the way, how  did  we get  to a
first-name basis so quickly?"
     Just instinctively. That's not what's worrying you."
     She thought for a moment.
     "That's true. They're  already  in the Arctic, you see what I mean. The
captain of the 'Dobrynya' icebreaker, Captain Shchetinnikov,  just back from
Archangel came over to the committee. He says that the vast area of the Kara
Sea and the  ocean north of  Franz-Joseph Land is  all  free  from ice. From
Pulkovo Observatory the  report  is that ice satellites orbit over the North
Pole several times a day."
     "And the committee rejects filming," I added disappointed.  "Now's just
the time to photograph."
     "Amateurs have  been  doing that.  We'll  soon be  getting cartloads of
film. That's not the important thing."
     "What is important?"
     "Contact."
     I whistled.
     "Don't whistle.  Attempts  at contact have already  been  made,  though
without success it seems.  But  English and Dutch scientists have proposed a
programme of contacts. All the  materials are in the hands of  Osovets. Then
there's  this Thompson group  that'll have to be dealt with at the congress.
The  American delegation is  actually divided, the majority  do not  support
Thompson, but there  are some that are in with him.  Not very solidly, true,
but they'll be hard nuts  to crack in  Paris. That's what's important,  see?
Wait a minute."  Laughing, she  grabbed her  raincoat and  pulled  from  the
pocket a bulky package covered over with foreign stamps. "I forgot about the
most important thing of all; here's a letter for you from the United States.
You're getting to be famous."
     "From Martin," I said, looking at the address.
     A strange address, to say the least:
     "Yuri Anokhin.  First observer of  the phenomenon  of the  rose clouds.
Committee for Fighting Visitors from Space, Moscow, USSR."
     "Committee  for  fighting  ..."  Irene  laughed.  "Some  programme  for
contacts. He's a Thompsonite, all right."
     "Here, I'll read it."
     Martin wrote that he had returned from the  Antarctic expedition to his
airbase near Sand City, in the southwest of the United States. On Thompson's
suggestion, he was immediately assigned to a voluntary society set up by the
Admiral for combating  the  cosmic visitors. Martin was not surprised at his
assignment.  Thompson had told him about it in  the plane  on the  way home.
Neither  was he surprised at the position he  was  offered. When the Admiral
learned that in  college Martin had published  items in student journals, he
named his press  agent. "I have  a  feeling that the old man doesn't believe
me, he thinks I'm a double, something like a fifth columnist and so he wants
to keep me close by him to see and  check for  himself. That's  why I didn't
tell him what happened to  me on the  way to our  airbase in  Sand City. But
I've got to  tell somebody, and  there's nobody but you. You're the only one
who can disentangle  this crazy house I've gotten into.  You and I know what
happened at the South Pole; here things seem to be dressed up differently."
     The letter was typed, over ten single-spaced pages.  "My first  article
is not  for the  press, only for you,"  he wrote. "You'll  see for  yourself
whether I'm fit to be a newspaper man." I went through a couple of pages and
nearly jumped.
     "Read it," I said  to  Irene, handing her the pages as I finished them.
"It looks like we're in a hot spot."






     Here's what Martin wrote:
     The sun had just  risen over the horizon  when I went out the gates  of
the airbase. I was in a hurry, with only 24 hours of time off, and it was at
least an hour's drive to Sand City. I waved gaily to the sleepy watchman, my
ancient two-seater  jerked forward  and I  went sailing along  the  asphalt.
Something rattled  in the back of the car, then a knock, the cylinders  were
banging- this was a real piece of junk  all right. "About time to get  a new
one,"  I thought to myself, "eight years is much too much. But  you get into
the habit, and Mary likes it too".
     That's  where I was going, to see Mary in  Sand City and spend the last
free  day  I  had  with  her before leaving for New  York  to report to  the
Admiral. The boys at the airbase introduced me to Mary the  first  day after
my  return from  Mac-Murdo. She was new at this bar,  nothing spectacular, a
girl  like  any other girl, in a starched white uniform and Elizabeth Taylor
hairdo- they all copy film  stars at the bar. There was something about  her
that attracted me from the very start, and  so every evening off I'd go over
to see  her. I even wrote Mom that I had a nice girl, and  all that  sort of
thing. You know.
     This trip I had made up my  mind  finally and was thinking  over how to
tell her. No use holding things  up, that's the  way I felt. But things were
held up,  after all.  Some  guy was  out there on the  highway, I honked the
horn, but instead of moving away he jumped about and almost landed under the
car. So I slammed down the brakes and got out:
     "Hey,  what's wrong,  can't you  see a car when it's right in front  of
you?"
     He looked at  me, then  at the sky and slowly  got to his feet, beating
the dust out of his old jeans.
     "There's something a lot worse than cars that's frightening people." He
came over to me and asked. "Going into town?"
     I nodded and he got in, just as wild-looking as before. Terribly scared
is what  I figured,  with droplets of sweat all over his forehead, with dark
damp circles around the armpits of his shirt.
     "How come you're out training so early?" I asked.
     "Much worse," he repeated putting  his hand into his pocket. Along with
his handkerchief, a 1952 Barky Jones fell out onto the seat.
     I whistled in surprise: "What's this a pursuit?"
     I was now sorry  that I had got mixed up with him. I don't like highway
encounters of that nature.
     "Crazy,"  he said  without anger.  "It's not mine, the boss's: I'm just
watching the herd at Viniccio's ranch."
     "Cowboy?"
     "No,"  he  replied  screwing up his  face and wiping  the sweat off his
forehead. "I can't even ride a horse. But I need money for college."
     I smiled  to  myself: 'escaping gangster  turns  into  vacation-working
student'.
     "My name's Mitchell Casey," he said.
     I told him my  name, hoping not without vanity that because it had been
in the papers since meeting  the dragons at MacMurdo he  might recognize it,
but  I  was mistaken.  He hadn't been reading the papers or listening to the
radio, had never heard of me,  nor of the rose clouds:  "Maybe this is a war
or men from Mars have landed, it's about the same, I don't know."
     "There's no war yet," I said. "It might be Martians all right, though."
     I told him briefly about the rose clouds. But I never expected my story
to produce the reaction that it did. He grabbed for the door as if he wanted
to jump out on the  spot, but then  he opened  his mouth and with  trembling
lips asked:
     "From the sky?"
     I nodded.
     "Long rose-coloured cucumbers. Like diving airplanes?"
     That surprised me. He  seemed to know all about them, though he said he
didn't read the papers.
     "I just saw some,"  he said, and again  wiped  his forehead, this  time
from cold  sweat most likely.  The meeting with our  acquaintances  from the
Antarctic seemed to have knocked him out completely.
     "So what?" I asked. "They fly and they dive, do a good job. And they're
like cucumbers. But no harm done. Just a fog, that's all. You're  a bit of a
coward, aren't you?"
     "Anyone would have got scared in my place," he said still all keyed up.
"I nearly went crazy when they doubled my herd."
     And, then looking around, as if afraid someone might be  listening,  he
added softly, "And me too."
     I realized then, Yuri, that  Mitchell  had  gone through the same thing
that  you and I had. These damn  clouds got  interested  in  the herd, dived
down,  doubled it and  this  plucky cowboy  tried  to drive  them  off. Then
something  totally  unexplainable  occurred.  One   of  the  rose  cucumbers
approached  him,  hovered  over  his head and ordered him to retreat. Not in
words, naturally, but like  a hypnotizer-to  go  back  and get on the horse.
Mitchell  told me that he could not do  anything  other than as he was told.
Without offering any resistance, he went back to the horse and got into  the
saddle. What I think is  that they wanted someone on horseback because  they
already had  quite a collection of people on foot. The rest was routine: the
red fog, the complete immobility-you can't move a hand or  a foot and it  is
as  if you were being examined straight  through.  A very familiar  pattern.
When  the fog dispersed and the boy came to he couldn't believe his eyes-the
herd had doubled,  and  to the side,  on a horse, was another Mitchell.  The
horse was the same, and he was the same, as if in a mirror.
     That's when he lost  his nerve; and I remember well the first time that
happened to me too. Well, it was the same thing, he ran, he just  ran to get
away  from  it.  Then  he stopped.  The  cattle weren't  his,  he  would  be
responsible. He thought a bit, and then returned. What he found was what had
been there  before  the  coming  of  the  rose  clouds.  No extra cattle, no
duplicate  horse. So he figured he must have been seeing  things, or he  was
out of his mind. He drove the cattle into the paddock,  and left for town to
see the boss.
     All of  this is by way of introduction, you understand.  I  had  hardly
quieted down the boy when I myself  got  the jitters: there they were flying
at house-top level, single file as if it were along a road. Just like Disney
characters, like our radioman at MacMurdo had suggested, not like cucumbers.
Then Mitchell saw them. Dead silence. He was breathing heavily.
     That's it again, I thought, recalling how those dirigibles  had plunged
into combat  in  our first aerial  fight.  But this time  they did  not even
descend, they simply hurtled by at sonic speed like rose-coloured flashes of
lightning in a lilac sky.
     "They're headed for town," Mitchell whispered from behind.
     I didn't say anything.
     "I wonder why they didn't pay any attention to us."
     "Not interested. Two in a car, any number about like us. And I'm tagged
as it is."
     He didn't get me.
     "We've already met," I explained. "And they remember."
     "I don't like this at all," he said and fell silent.
     And so we drove  on in silence until the town  came into sight. We were
about a mile  away but  for some  reason I didn't recognize it. It seemed so
strange in the lilac haze, like a mirage over distant shifting yellow sands.
     "What  the  hell!" I exclaimed in  surprise. "Maybe my speedometer's on
the blink. It should
     be a good dozen miles yet to town, but there it ,1
     is."
     "Look up over there!" Mitchell shouted.
     Right over the mirage of the town hung a string of rose clouds, sort of
like jellyfish or perhaps umbrellas, or a cross between them. Maybe that's a
mirage too.
     "The town's not in the right place," I said. "I don't get it."
     "We should have passed old man Johnson's motel by  this time," Mitchell
put in. "It's only a mile from town."
     I recalled the shrivelled up face of the motel owner and his stentorian
commanding  voice: "The world's gone  nuts,  Don.  I'm  already beginning to
believe  in  God."  I  seemed  ready  to believe  in God too. I  was  seeing
marvellous unfathomable miracles. Johnson,  who ordinarily sat on his  porch
and greeted all cars passing by, had vanished. That in itself was a miracle.
Never, in all  my  travelling to  town, had I ever missed  old  man  Johnson
waving us into town. A bigger enigma yet was the disappearance of his motel,
for we couldn't have passed it. There weren't even any signs of a  structure
along the road.
     On the other hand, the town was coming into full  sight. Sand City in a
lilac haze ceased to be a mirage.
     "A  town  like  any  other,"  said  Mitchell,  "but  there's  something
different here. Maybe we're on another route."
     But we  were  coming in by the usual route. The same  red-brick houses,
the same sign boards with big letters reading: 'Juiciest Beef Steak in  Sand
City', the  same gas station. Even Fritch in  a white jacket was standing as
usual near the lightning-split oak tree with his broad smile "What can I  do
for you, sir? Oil? Gas?"








     I  stopped  the car with a screech of brakes so familiar to gas station
attendants round this place.
     "Howdy, Fritch. What's doing in town?"
     It looked to me like Fritch didn't  recognize me. He approached us  but
kind of  unwillingly, no eagerness, like a person coming into a brightly lit
room from the dark. Still more  striking  were his eyes: fixed, as if  dead,
they looked through us, not at us. He stopped before reaching the car.
     "Good morning, sir," he said indifferently in a dull hollow voice.
     He didn't use my name.
     "What's happening to the city!?" I yelled. "What's it got, wings?"
     "Don't know, sir," the voice was Fritch's but in  a totally indifferent
monotone. "What would you like, sir?"
     No, this wasn't Fritch  at all. "Where's  old man Johnson's motel  gone
to?" I asked impatiently.
     He replied without a smile:
     "Old man Johnson's motel? Don't know, sir." He  took a step closer and,
now with a smile-but such an artificial smile it was that  I  was horrified.
.. Then, "What can I do for you, some oil, or gas?"
     "Okay,"  I said. "We'll figure  this out yet. Let's go, Mitchell." As I
left the  gas station, I turned  around.  Fritch was still standing there on
the roadside, watching us go, his eyes the cold, fixed eyes of a corpse.
     "What's  wrong with him?" asked  Mitchell. "Taken  a bit too  much this
morning?"
     But  I  knew that Fritch did not drink, anyway  nothing more than Pepsi
Cola. This wasn't liquor, it was something inhuman.
     "A puppet," I muttered, "a wound-up puppet.  'Don't know, sir. What can
I do for you, sir?' "
     You know I'm no coward, Yuri, but honestly I cringed from a premonition
of imminent danger. Too  many  unaccountable  accidents, and worse than down
there in Antarctica.  I even wanted to turn around and go  back, but there's
no other route to town. And there was no point in going back to the base.
     "You know where to find the boss?" I asked Mitchell.
     "In the club most likely."
     "Okay, we'll begin with the club," I sighed.
     "Since the town's right here, there's no use stopping now."
     I  turned  down  Eldorado Street  racing  the  car  past  neat  rows of
cottages, all yellow like new-born chicks. There were no pedestrians, nobody
walked-this  was  an upper-crust neighbourhood,  quiet;  the  big  shots had
already left for their offices, and their wives were still stretching in bed
or having late breakfasts in their electrified kitchenettes. Mitchell's boss
was taking  a snack in the club, which was at the cross-roads of Main Street
and State. By this time I was fairly ashamed of my unrealised fears-the blue
sky, no rose  clouds over head, the heated-up asphalt, the hot wind sweeping
bits of newspaper which  might even be carrying the rose-cloud sensation and
stating that it was the concoction of New  York  nuts. Sand  City  was fully
protected from any cosmic intruder. Everything returned us to the reality of
quiet town, the way it should be on a sultry summer morning like today.
     At least  that  is the  way  it seemed to me,  because it  was  all  an
illusion, Yuri. There was no morning in the town and it wasn't slumbering or
sleeping. We could see that at once when we turned down State Street.
     "Isn't it too early for the club?" I asked  Mitchell  still thinking by
inertia about the sleeping city.
     He  laughed-there was a crowd  at the intersection that had stopped all
traffic.  This  was no morning crowd and this was no waking-up city. The sun
shone  but  the  electric  street lights were just  as bright, as if it were
still  last  night.  Neon  lights  were still  flashing  on  and off  in the
show-windows  and on signs.  In  movie houses, cowboys were  shooting, James
Bond  was  fearlessly on the job seeking out victims to  eliminate. Billiard
balls were racing noiselessly over green tables, and the  jazz band over  at
the "Selena" Restaurant was banging away as loud as  a passing train. And on
the sidewalks, pedestrians  were walking lazily along, not hurrying to work,
because work had long since  ceased,  the city was alive with  evening life,
not  morning  duties. As if the people  together with the electric  lighting
were out to fool time and nature.
     "Why the lights? Isn't the sun enough?" Mitchell said in bewilderment.
     I pulled up at  the curb near the tobacco store. Tossing some change on
the counter I carefully asked the pretty sales girl:
     "What's it a holiday today?"
     "What holiday?"  she asked by way of reply, handing  me the cigarettes.
"An ordinary evening of a usual day?"
     The immobile blue eyes looked through me-like the dead eyes of Fritch.
     "Evening?" I repeated.  "Take a  look at the sky. What's the sun  doing
there if it's evening?"
     "Don't know." Her voice was calm and indifferent. "It's evening now and
I don't know anything."
     I slowly left  the shop. Mitchell  was waiting in the car. He had heard
the whole conversation and was probably thinking the same thoughts as I was:
who's crazy,  we  or everyone  in town? Maybe  it  really  was  evening  and
Mitchell and I were seeing things. I took another close look at the  street.
It  was part of Route  66 that passed through to New  Mexico. The cars  were
passing two lanes abreast in both directions. Ordinary United States cars on
an ordinary American highway. All of them had their headlights on.
     On an impulse, I grabbed the first passer-by.
     "Hey, take your hands off me," he exploded.
     He was a  little, thick-set but nimble man in a crazy-like bicycle cap.
His eyes were not empty and indifferent, but alive and angry. They looked at
me with revulsion.  I turned around and looked at Mitchell who mimicked that
the fat guy must  be  touched in the head.  And  the anger of  the roly-poly
stranger switched to a different direction.
     "You  say  I'm  crazy,  do you!"  he  screamed and lunged for Mitchell.
"You're  the ones that are mad,  the whole  town's gone nuts. Electricity in
the  morning, and the only answer I get  to all questions is 'I don't know'.
All right, what is it: morning or night?"
     "Morning,  of  course,"  said  Mitchell, "but something's wrong here in
town this morning, I just don't understand."
     The metamorphosis of the fat man was amazing. He  no longer screamed or
yelled,  only quietly smiled stroking Mitchell's sweaty hand. Even his  eyes
moistened.
     "Thank heavens, one  normal man in  this nut house of a  town," he said
finally still holding on to Mitchell's hand.
     "Two," I said  extending my own hand. "You're the third. Let's exchange
impressions. We might be able to figure out this number."
     We stopped  on the edge  of the curb separated  from the  highway  by a
colourful string of parked cars, nobody inside.
     "Gentlemen, explain this  to me," he  began,  "these tricks  with cars.
They ride along, disappear, vanish, into nowhere."
     To put it honestly, I didn't get what he was driving at. What  was this
"into nowhere". He explained. Only he needed a  smoke to calm down. "I don't
usually smoke, but you know it does have a calming effect."
     "My  name's  Lesley  Baker,   travelling   salesman.  Women's  apparel,
cosmetics. Always on the go, here one day, gone the  next. I arrived on  the
route  from  New Mexico, turned onto Route 66.  I was crawling along awfully
slow, like a  snail. There  was this big green van right in front,  couldn't
pass it for the life of  me. You  know how it is, going slow. A  toothache's
worse. Then this sign 'You are now entering the quietest city in the  United
States'.  Quietest, my eye, the craziest, that's more  like it. At  the city
limits, where the highway widens out-there are no sidewalks-I tried again to
get out ahead of this big van. I just  stepped on  the gas, and it vanished,
went up into nothing.  I  was flabbergasted. So  I put on the brakes, pulled
over to the side and looked here and there, no van. Evaporated like sugar in
a  cup  of coffee. I even ran  into a  barbed-wire fence, lucky I was  going
slow."
     "Why a barbed-wire fence along the road?" I asked surprised.
     "On the highway? There wasn't any highway.  It had gone  along with the
van.  All  there was a red open  space, a green  island-like something at  a
distance, and the fence and barbed wire all about. Somebody's farm, I guess.
You  don't  believe  me? Well, I  didn't myself.  The  hell with  the van, I
figured, but  where did the road  go  to? I must have  been off my rocker. I
turned  around  and  nearly died  then  and  there-a huge black  Lincoln was
heading for me right through the wire! It was doing at least a hundred miles
an hour. I  didn't even have  time to jump, I just closed my eyes. This  was
the end for sure. A minute passed, no end. I opened my eyes, no end, no car,
no nothing."
     "Maybe it passed by."
     "Where? How? On what road?"
     "So the road disappeared too?"
     He nodded.
     "So," I said, "the cars disappeared before reaching the barbed wire?"
     "That's just  it. One after the other. I stood  there some  ten minutes
and they kept on  disappearing at the edge  of the highway.  It broke off in
red clay at the  very edge of the wire. There  I stood  like Rip Van Winkle,
blinking my eyes. To all  questions, only one answer: 'Don't know.' Why  are
the cars driving with headlights on? Don't know. Where are they disappearing
to? Don't  know. Maybe  going to hell? Don't know. Where's the  highway? The
eyes are glassy like those of the dead."
     It was already clear to me what kind of city this was. All I wanted was
one  more test: to take a look with my own eyes. I looked around  and raised
my hand: one of  the cars  stopped. The driver had  glassy eyes  too. But  I
risked it.
     "I'm going to the city limits. Two blocks or so, that's all."
     "Hop in," he said indifferently.
     I got in beside him. The fat guy and Mitchell got in  behind, not quite
understanding  what  it was  all about. The  driver  turned his  head  away,
completely apathetic, stepped on the gas, and covered the two blocks in half
a minute.
     "Look," Baker from behind whispered in agitation.
     In front of us, right across the highway cut  off by the red clay  were
four rows of rusty barbed wire. One could  only  see a small portion of  the
wire  fencework, the rest was hidden  behind the houses on the roadside, and
so it seemed as if the whole city were fenced in and isolated from the world
of living human beings. I already had some idea  of this thing  from Baker's
story, but the reality was still crazier.
     "Watch  out for  the  wire," Baker  yelled grabbing at the arm  of  the
driver.
     "Where?"  was  the surprised reply and he  pushed  away  Baker's  hand.
"You're nuts."
     He obviously didn't see the wire.
     "Put on the brakes," I said, "we're getting out here."
     The driver slowed down, but I could already  see the radiator beginning
to melt  in  the air. It was  as if something invisible  were eating the car
away  inch by inch.  The windshield had gone, then the instrument panel, the
driving wheel,  the hands of the driver. This was ghastly-so terrifying that
I instinctively closed my eyes. Then a sharp blow knocked me to  the ground.
I pitched into the dust and rolled along on the asphalt roadway, which means
I was flung out at the very edge of the highway. But how did  I fly out? The
door of the car was shut, the car hadn't overturned or anything. I raised my
head and in front I saw the body of an unfamiliar grey car. Alongside in the
dust lay unconscious our friend the salesman.
     "Are you alive?"  asked  Mitchell  bending down to him.  He had a black
eye. "I was knocked right  against Baker's bus." He  nodded towards the grey
car stuck in the wire roadblock.
     "Where's ours?"
     He shrugged his shoulders. For a minute  or two we  stood silent at the
edge of the cut-off highway watching one and the same miracle that  had just
left us without a car. The  fat travelling salesman had also got to his feet
and had joined  our spectacle.  It was repeated every three seconds  when-at
full speed-a  car  crossed the  edge of  the highway. Fords and Pontiacs and
Buicks-all  kinds drove  in and vanished without a trace, like soap bubbles.
Some  of the cars  were heading right into us as  we stood there, but we did
not move because  they simply evaporated two feet in front of us. The entire
process of mysterious and inexplicable vanishings  was clearly visible right
here in the  hot  sunshine.  True enough, they did not vanish  suddenly  but
gradually, by diving,  as  it were,  into  some kind of a hole in  space and
disappearing there, beginning with the  front bumper and winding up with the
back  license  plate.  The  whole  city  seemed  to  be  fenced  round  with
transparent  glass, beyond which there was  no highway,  no cars, no city at
all.
     Probably one  and  the  same thought rankled all three of us:  What was
there to do? Return to town?  But what kind of marvels might not be awaiting
us there, some kind of weird circus perhaps? What kind of people would there
be, who would be able to speak a normal human word? So far we hadn't  met up
with a single normal person except the travelling salesman.  I suspected the
doings  of  the  rose  clouds,  but  people  hereabouts were  not  like  the
duplicates created  at the South Pole. Those  were, or  seemed  to be, human
beings, while these  resembled resurrected dead  who knew  nothing  but  the
desire to go somewhere, to drive  cars, knock billiard balls about and drink
whiskey. I recalled Thompson's version and now for the  first time got  real
scared. Had they indeed been able to  replace the entire  population  of the
city? Could it be.... No, there was still one more test to make. Only one.
     "Let's get back to town, boys,"  I said to my companions. "We've got to
rinse out heads in a big way or else the nut house is the only place for us.
Judging by the cigarettes, the whiskey here is real."
     But I was thinking about Mary.








     At about noon we  arrived at the bar where Mary worked. The show window
and  the neon signs were ablaze with light.  The  owners were not  trying to
save on electricity even at high noon. My white duck jumper  was wet through
and  through  with sweat,  but  it was  cool and empty in  the bar. The high
stools were vacant; there were only a few couples near the window whispering
and a  half-drunk old man in  the corner  nursing his  bottle of  brandy and
orange juice.
     Mary did not hear us enter. She was standing with her back to us at the
open counter and was putting bottles on the shelves. We climbed  onto  three
stools  and exchanged expressive glances  without a word. Mitchell was  just
about to call Mary, but I stopped him and signalled for silence. I was going
to do the test myself.
     This was indeed the hardest experiment of all in this insane city.
     "Mary," I called hardly audibly.
     She swung around  as  if  frightened  by the  sound  of  my voice.  Her
squinting short-sighted eyes without glasses  and the  bright light blinding
her  from the ceiling  might have  explained  her well-mannered indifference
towards us. She did not recognize me.
     But she  wore her hairdo the way I liked  it- rather plain without  any
movie-star  effects. And  she  had on a red dress with short  sleeves that I
always preferred. All this  could account  for something else as  well.  She
knew about my visit and was expecting me.  That was a relief, for a minute I
forgot about any doubts and fears.
     "Mary," I said louder.
     The  answer  was  a  coquettish  smile,  with  head tipped to one side,
symbolically stressing the trained readiness to serve her customer, but that
typified  any girl at the bar, not  Mary.  With the boys  she knew, she  was
different.
     "What's the matter, baby?" I asked. "I'm Don!"
     "What's the  difference,  Don  or  John?" she responded with a  playful
shrug  of the  shoulders  and  a  glance with  meaning,  but she  failed  to
recognize me. "Anything I can do for you?"
     "Hey, look at me, will you?" I said rudely.
     "What for?" came her surprised respond, but she looked.
     I saw two huge bulging eyes-not hers-blue  and narrow like the girls in
pictures by Salvador Dali, and always lively, kind or angry. There  were the
cold dead  eyes of Fritch,  the eyes of  the girl in the tobacco  store, the
eyes of the  driver that  evaporated on the highway with his car-the  glassy
eyes of a doll. A puppet. Not  alive,  that was it. The test was a  failure.
There weren't any live people in  that city. Then the instantaneous decision
to  run. Anywhere, just to get  out of it all before it was too late, before
all this damned horror invaded us completely.
     "Follow me!" I shouted, jumping off the stool.
     The fat man was disappointed expecting the promised drink, but Mitchell
got  the message. A bright kid. When we were out in the street he said, "How
will I find the boss now?"
     "You won't  find your boss anywhere  here," I said.  "There aren't  any
people here, just make believe, half-people. Let's beat it."
     The  fat  man couldn't  get  anything through his head,  but obediently
followed behind from fear; he obviously didn't relish staying alone  in this
weird city.  I'm afraid that even  Mitchell wasn't fully  aware  of what was
going on, but at least  he  didn't  argue. He had seen enough bizarre events
along the road today, It was enough for him!
     "If we have to clear out, then we  will,"  he remarked philosophically.
"Do you remember where we left the car?"
     I looked around, my "corvette"  wasn't on the corner. I  must have left
it farther down the street. In  its place  near the curb, about two or three
yards from us was a black police car, headlights ablaze. There were a couple
of policemen in uniform inside, and two more-one with a broken nose, must've
been  a former boxer- stood next to the open door. On the other side of  the
street, near a sign that read "Commercial Bank" were two more. They were all
following  us with intent but hardly  alive, penetrating eyes. I didn't like
that at all.
     The sergeant said something to those in the car. The  concentrated look
on his face was ominous. They were definitely waiting for someone. Maybe us,
shot through my mind. Anything could happen in this upside-down city.
     "Hurry up, Mitch," I said looking around, "we seem to be in for it."
     "Over that way," he replied and ran, weaving through the cars parked at
the curb.
     I slipped around a truck that nearly  hit me and  got to the other side
of  the  street some distance away from  the suspicious black wagon. Just in
time, too. The sergeant stepped out onto the pavement and raised his hand.
     "Hey, you, stop!"
     But I had already  swung into the side street, a dark canyon-like alley
between houses without signs or  windows. The fat guy dashed with surprising
agility and caught up with me, grabbed my hand:
     "Look what they're doing!"
     I turned  around. The policemen had strung  out  and were crossing  the
street on the run. In front was  the sergeant breathing heavily and reaching
for his gun. Noticing me turn around, he shouted:
     "Stop or I'll shoot!"
     I didn't want to  see  how his gun worked, particularly here when I had
figured out the origin of this town and its population. I was lucky-I  heard
the whistle of bullets after  I had jumped behind an empty car.  The closely
parked  chain of cars  made  it easier for  us  to manoeuvre.  With  amazing
nimbleness spurred  on by  fear, Baker  and Mitchell  dived, crouching,  and
raced across the street.
     I  knew  this  side-street. Somewhere along here  there  should  be two
houses  with an arched gateway between them. There you  could get through to
the next  street and catch a passing car or End one: maybe our own. We  left
it somewhere nearby on the corner of just such  a  narrow side-street. Or we
might hide in the repair  shop.  A  week before when Mary and I were walking
past, the shop was empty  and there was a "To Let" sign up. I remembered the
shop when  we went  under the arched  gateway. The policemen were stuck some
distance behind.
     "This way!" I shouted to my companions and pulled on the door.
     The padlock and  sign were still hanging there and  my jerk didn't open
the door. Then I rammed it with my shoulder, it creaked but held.
     Then Mitchell tried with his whole body. The door groaned and collapsed
in a jangle of falling metal.
     But there wasn't anything behind it, it didn't lead anywhere. We  faced
a dark opening  filled with  a thick black jelly-like something. At first we
thought it was simply the  darkness of an  unlighted entrance way out of the
sunlight in  this narrow  alley.  I  pushed forward into the  darkness,  but
jumped back again: it turned out  to be elastic like rubber. Now I could see
it perfectly well-a definitely  black  something, perceptible to  the touch,
but  awfully dense and  resilient,  blown  up  like an  automobile  tire  or
compressed smoke.
     Then  Mitchell  plunged into it, he  jumped into the  darkness  like  a
wildcat and rebounded like I  had. Actually, it-the something-just threw him
back. It was most likely impenetrable even to a cannon ball. I figured-I was
convinced of this-that the whole inside of the house was the same: no rooms,
no people, darkness pure and simple with the resilience of a net.
     "What is it?" Mitchell asked horrified.
     He was scared stiff like in  the  morning on the highway. But there was
no more time to analyse impressions.  Our pursuers were getting closer. They
had probably entered the archway. But between us and the dense springy black
substance was a narrow-about  a foot  wide-space of ordinary darkness, maybe
of the same kind  but  sort of rarefied to the constituency of fog or gas. A
London smog or pea soup where you don't see more than a yard away. I put out
my hand, it disappeared in  it as if cut off. I  got  up and pressed against
the  compressed darkness in the depth of  the doorway  and  heard Baker yell
out, "Where are you guys?"
     Mitchell's hand found me and he saw at once how to get out. Together we
pulled the fat travelling salesman  through the opening and tried  to vanish
into the  darkness by pressing as hard  as possible so that the  treacherous
resilient thing beyond did not throw us out again.
     The door to the  repair shop where we were hiding was round the  corner
of  a  brick wall that jutted out at  this point. The  policemen had already
looked down the side street but could  not see us, yet even an  idiot  could
have guessed we couldn't have been able to  run the length of the street and
hide.
     "They're  some place around here," the sergeant said.  The wind carried
his words. "Try it along the wall."
     Bursts of machine-gun fire followed  one after  the other. The  bullets
did not  touch us hidden behind the jutting  portion of  the wall,  but they
whistled by and crunched into  the brick knocking out bits of  the wall. The
three of us were breathing heavily, tense with nerves at the bursting point.
I was afraid the salesman might give up,  so I held him by the throat. If he
squeaks, I thought, I'll  have to press harder. By then  shots  were ringing
out  from the other side of the street, the police were firing down entrance
ways and into indentations. I know that type and whispered to Mitchell:
     "Give me your pistol!"
     I wouldn't have done it in a reasonable city with normal policemen even
in  a similar situation, but in this backside-to town all means would do. So
I  didn't  tremble  when  I reached  in  the  dark for Mitchell's plaything.
Cautiously, I looked round the jutting wall and slowly raised the gun till I
had the big mug of  the sergeant in the sight,  then  I pressed the trigger.
There was a sharp  report and I could  clearly see the head of the policeman
jerk from the impact  of the bullet. It even  seemed to me that I saw a neat
round  hole at the bridge of the nose.  But  the  sergeant did  not fall, he
didn't even reel.
     "I've  got'em," he cried out enthusiastically.  "They're hiding  around
the corner."
     "How'd you miss him?" said Mitchell down-heartedly.
     I did  not answer.  I was positive  I'd got the policeman square in the
forehead.  I simply couldn't  have missed.  I've  shot and  won prizes. This
could  only  mean  that  these puppets  were not  afraid  of bullets.  I was
trembling all  over now so I  didn't even aim, I  just pumped the whole clip
into the  big-cheeked sergeant. I  could almost physically feel the  bullets
plump into the body.
     Nothing  happened.  He didn't even  feel  them,  didn't  jerk or try to
escape. Could it be that, inside, he was all that rubber that we were hiding
close to now?
     I threw down the useless pistol and left the hiding  place. Now nothing
mattered any more, there could be only one end.
     At  that moment something happened, not exactly sudden, I wouldn't say.
Something had been changing in the  situation all  along, simply in the heat
of the fight we  hadn't  noticed  properly. The  air about was going redder,
little by  little,  then deep crimson. I drove the last clip of bullets into
the  sergeant  without   being  able  to  see  him  properly  in  his  murky
surroundings.  And  when  the  pistol fell  to  the  ground, I looked at  it
automatically, but it wasn't there: under my feet was a thick crimson jelly.
A fog of  the same colour had enveloped everything. Only  the figures of the
policemen stood  dimly  at  a  distance  like  purple shadows.  The fog  was
thickening all the  time, finally it got as dense jam. But it did not hamper
our breathing or movements in the least.
     I don't know how long this lasted, a  minute, half an  hour or an hour,
but all of a sudden it had rapidly and unnoticeably melted away. When it was
over, a totally different  picture opened up to us. There were no policemen,
no houses, no streets, only the brick-like sun-baked desert and the sky with
ordinary  clouds  scudding along high up. Off  in the  distance was the hazy
dark  ribbon of  the highway, and in  front of  us, all entangled  in barbed
wire, was the upturned car of our fat travelling salesman.
     "What was it all about? Was it a dream?" he asked.
     His voice was so excited it came out hoarse, he could hardly speak, his
tongue wouldn't obey, like people who are regaining the capacity to speak.
     "No," and I patted him on the shoulder for encouragement. "I don't want
to console you. This was no dream but complete reality. And we are the  only
participants."
     Here I was mistaken. There was  yet  another  witness  who had  watched
events from the sidelines, so to speak. We found him a bit later. It took us
about a quarter of an  hour to get to a motel, an ancient structure but with
a nice new shiny concrete-glass-aluminium garage. And Johnson, as usual, was
sitting on the  steps of his porch. He jumped  up when he saw us  and seemed
unnaturally happy.
     "Don?" he said not quite convinced. "Where you from?"
     "From the inside of hell," I said. "From the branch office, it has here
on the earth."
     "You been in  this crazy house?"  He looked  at us  with  horror in his
eyes.
     "Yes,  I was  there all right,"  I assured him.  "I'll  give  the whole
story, only give me a drink  of something, that is,  if you yourself  are no
mirage."
     No, he wasn't. The iced whiskey wasn't either. It was a great relief to
sit down and hear what it was like from the outside of this city.
     Johnson saw it  all very  suddenly. He was sitting, dozing  and all  at
once he came to, looked around and  froze stiff: to the left where there had
never been anything, except dried up clay, was a twin city. To the right was
Sand  City and to the left was Sand City. "I  thought this was the  end, the
end  of the world!  I was not drunk, could see  straight, no doubling  up. I
went  into the house,  then came back again, but  the same  thing: me in the
middle of two twin cities, was  it a mirage? After all, it might be, this is
a desert, you know. Well, the twin city was here all right, never evaporated
and didn't melt. And worse, there wasn't a single car on the highway.
     Then all of a  sudden, it got dark and hazy, a fog  or something like a
fog, smoke or something, or like a storm cloud grazing the ground, an orange
red." As I listened to  Johnson's  story, I noticed that every  witness gave
the colours  a little differently. The fog was purple, or cherry, or crimson
or red.  But whatever it was, it lifted finally and then here we were coming
along the road.
     Later still,  Mary  had her  own  story of the fog. She had really been
waiting for me, and  the dress she had on was just like that  of the phantom
girl in the  fog.  She  also told us what had happened  in the city. I won't
relate it, since I'm sending along  a couple  of newspaper clippings. You'll
figure it all out better than I can."
     I  put down the  last page of  the  letter and  waited  until Irene had
finished reading. We looked at each  other and failed to find words. We were
probably  both  thinking  the  same  thing: is  it  really possible that our
everyday earthly life can get so close to a fairy tale?








     The clipping Martin sent from the Sand City Tribune read:
     "A curious meteorological phenomenon occurred yesterday in our city. At
half past seven yesterday evening, when the bars and stores and movie houses
all along  State  Street were  lighted  up brightly, a strange  reddish  fog
descended on the city. Some say the colour was violet. Actually, this was no
ordinary  fog  because  visibility  over  considerable  distances   was  not
impaired, all things were clearly discernible like on a  summer morning of a
cloudless day. True,  the fog did thicken to  the consistency of an ordinary
Los  Angeles smog.  They say it's worse  than the  London fog. No one  knows
exactly  how  long it thickened. Probably  not for long because most  of the
witnesses we questioned claim that the fog remained transparent all the time
and that  it was only the environment-houses, people and  even  the air-that
took on a deep purple or almost crimson  hue, as if one were looking through
red glasses. At first, the people stopped, looked at the sky and since there
was  nothing to be seen,  calmly  continued on  their way.  The  fog did not
affect  amusement shows, movies and the  like because it wasn't even noticed
there.  The event persisted for about an hour and then the fog, if  you  can
call it a fog, dispersed and the city became its evening self again.
     "Meteorologist James Backley,  who comes from Sand City and is visiting
here at  present,  explained  that  this  phenomenon  cannot  be  classed as
meteorological. He described  it  rather  as an enormous  rarefied  cloud of
minute particles of an artificial dye dispersed in the air, probably brought
in by the wind from some  dye works within an area of 100-150 miles  radius.
Such a  highly  atomized  and  nondispersible  accumulation  of  minute  dye
particles is a rare event indeed, but not exceptional and  may be carried  *
by the wind for many miles.
     "The  editors  believe that  the  rumours started about  some  kind  of
rose-coloured clouds are completely  groundless. The rose  clouds are  to be
sought in polar and not subtropical  regions of  the continent.  As for  the
statement made by Mr. Johnson, the owner of a  motel on the federal highway,
that he saw two identical cities on either side of his motel, it comes as no
surprise to the  editors  or  to people acquainted  with  Mr.  Johnson.  The
tourist season has not yet started and the motel is empty most of  the time.
It seems obvious  that  a drink or  two of whiskey produced these two cities
that eventful day.
     "Quite another explanation of these events comes  from our sharpshooter
Lammy  Cochen,  owner of the 'Orion'  bar and leader  of the 'Wild' Club. He
says  it's the work of the Reds.  'Look out for the Reds, for  they not only
colour politics, but even the air we breathe.' Doesn't that link up with New
York  lawyer Roy Desmond being beaten up  as he  emerged  from  a bar in our
city?  He  refused  to  answer  certain  questions  relating  to  the coming
presidential  elections.  There  might  be  some  connection. The police who
immediately came to the site  of the disturbance were unable to identify any
of the participants."
     Admiral Thompson gave an interview to  the "Time  and People" magazine:
'PLAGUE GRIPS SAND CITY, SAYS ADMIRAL, ROSE CLOUDS TO BLAME.'
     "During the past few days, a little  southern town on Route 66 has been
the focus of attention of the whole country. Papers have already * published
reports of the red fog that so suddenly enveloped  the city and the story of
the  travelling  salesman Lesley Baker about the bizarre events  in the twin
city. Our  reporter interviewed retired  Admiral Thompson, a  member of  the
United States  Antarctic  expedition and the  first eye  witness of the rose
clouds in action."
     "What do you think about the events in Sand City, sir?"
     "Well, I believe that it is  the  deep concern of  the ordinary citizen
about the future of human society."
     "You believe that there are grounds for concern?"
     "Yes, I do. The 'clouds' are not confining themselves to the copying of
individuals, but  they are synthesizing whole strata of society. I will give
only the  latest  cases:  the  ocean  liner  'Alamade'  with  its  crew  and
passengers in toto, the big store in Buffalo on a particularly busy day, the
plastics works in Evansville. It cannot be that  all witnesses had the  same
dream  as  if they  had lived  together for years,  and then  the  duplicate
factory  that  vanished.  No one  can convince  me  that it was all merely a
mirage caused by a  temperature gradient in different layers of air. And  it
is not  of the slightest importance that it  persisted for only minutes. The
important thing is that nobody can convincingly demonstrate which one of the
factories disappeared and which remained!"
     "When speaking  of the  events in Sand  City at  the Apollo  Club,  you
mentioned the plague. Now in what sense was that?"
     "Oh,  the  most  direct.  The  city  must  be  isolated,  subjected  to
systematic tests and unabated observations in the future. The problem is the
same:  are these  real people  or are they  all  duplicates?  Unfortunately,
neither the authorities nor society  at  large are paying anywhere near  the
necessary attention to this problem."
     "You  couldn't  be exaggerating a bit, could you,  sir?"  our  reporter
objected. "Do you really  accuse  the  country of indifference to the cosmic
visitors?"
     The Admiral replied with irony:
     "Well, not if one speaks of rose-cloud skirts and horsemen-from-nowhere
hairdos. Or, say, the congress of spiritualists that  declared the clouds to
be the spirits of the dead returning to the world with a gift from  almighty
God. That's not indifference! Or take the twelve-hour filibustering speeches
of senators about the  'horsemen' in Congress so as to kill a bill on taxing
big  incomes.  Or  stock brokers using the 'clouds' to  play down stocks. Or
preachers proclaming the end of the world. Or perhaps film producers putting
out things like 'Bob  Merrile Vanquishes Horsemen From Nowhere'. All of that
is nothing  more than a broken sewage main. I have something quite different
in mind...."
     "War?"
     "With whom?  The 'clouds'?  I'm  not  an idiot to think that mankind is
sufficiently  armed to combat a civilization that is capable of creating all
manner  of atomic structures.  I spoke  of  chasing  out the  'clouds', more
precisely of the necessity to find ways  and  means of  contributing to this
aim." The Admiral added: "Powerful as this civilization is,  it might have a
weak spot, an Achilles heel. Then why shouldn't we seek it? It seems  to  me
that our scientists are  not energetic enough in making contacts, and not so
much in the sense  of reaching  an understanding between us human beings and
the strangers, but in the  sense of a direct, immediate, so to say,  spatial
approach to the cosmic visitors  in order to study and  observe them. Why is
it that  their terrestrial base has not yet been located? I would send out a
number of expeditions, one  of the aims being to locate the weak spot that I
am sure they  have. The  problem is one  of  vulnerability. Then  everything
would take on quite a different aspect."
     In this rather loud and outspoken interview the Admiral  did not appear
to me to  be either a maniac  or an eccentric, but simply not a very  clever
person. Yet I felt  that  his consistent, fanatical prejudice  might, in the
future, be still more dangerous than  the as yet undeclphered actions of our
visitors from space. This was slightly hinted at by the  interviewer when he
cautiously pointed out that  to  include  Admiral Thompson  in the  American
scientific delegation to the Paris international conference might complicate
coordination of its efforts.
     I passed on both the clippings together with  Martin's letter to Zernov
in the plane. We occupied what amounted to a separate compartment because it
was isolated by the high  backs of seats  in front and  in back. Osovets and
Rogovin were  to  arrive in Paris  in  two days,  just as  the  congress got
underway. We had left earlier so as to take  part in the press conference of
eye witnesses  and to  meet  the  Americans from MacMurdo who  did not share
Admiral Thompson's  views and who had acquired  a  certain  amount  of fresh
experience with  the cosmic visitors after the Admiral had left. We had just
had breakfast after taking off from the Moscow airport  at Sheremetievo.  It
was  cool  in  the  plane and  all  the little  local  sounds  like rustling
newspapers and conversation  were drowned out by the subdued roar of the jet
engines. This was  just the time  for a talk  about Martin's  letter.  While
Zernov was reading  and  rereading  the pages  of  the letter I whispered to
Irene:
     "You  remember  the letter of course. Try  to recall all unclear places
and formulate some questions. Zernov is  like a professor at the lectern who
does not like imprecision, misunderstanding."
     "Why? Is there such a thing as precise misunderstanding?"
     "Naturally. What I don't understand I doubt. The imprecise kind is when
you can't determine the chief unclear point, a stupid question and wide-open
know-nothing eyes."
     I hid behind the newspaper preferring not to hear the  reply. Anyway, I
would  have  to  formulate  all  the  obscurities by  myself.  What  is  the
difference between Martin's werewolves and the memorable  doubles? I grouped
them mentally:
     empty eyes, lack of understanding of many questions addressed  to them,
automatic movements  and  actions, confused ideas about  time, vision unlike
human vision; they were  not  able to see the sun, the blue sky and were not
surprised at the electric  light on the  street in the daytime. They did not
appear to have any human memory:
     Martin's girl  did  not  simply  fail  to recognize Martin, she did not
remember  him. The  bullets from  Martin's  pistol  penetrated  these people
without causing any bodily  harm. Hence, the inner Structure of their bodies
differed from human beings. Apparently, the  "clouds" did not copy people in
this  case  but only  set up  externally  similar robots with  a  restricted
programme. Thus,  we have  the first  absurd feature: why was the method  of
simulation changed and within what limits was it changed?
     But  the clouds built  models  of things  too,  not  only  humans.  The
duplicate  of  our  tracked  vehicle  was real.  So were  all the  things in
Martin's city. The drinks could be drunk, the cigarettes smoked and the cars
driven in. And the bullets of the police-guns even went through brick walls.
The houses  had real windows and doors, and real cafes dealt  in real coffee
and hot dogs, the owner of a real gas station sold real oil and gasoline. At
the  same time, real automobiles appeared like phantoms on the  highway that
went  through the city. They appeared out of  nothing,  out of emptiness and
disappeared at the other end  just as mystically and into the same emptiness
or nothing, into the cloud of dust that had just  been raised by the passing
car itself. Not all the doors in  the houses led somewhere. Some of them did
not lead anywhere, for beyond was a void-a nonpenetrable and black void like
compressed  smoke.  So  there  was  some   other  system  of  model-building
surrounding things that restricted it in some way. Let us now formulate  the
second unclear point:  Why another system, for what purposes and in what way
restricted?
     Another  puzzling thing:  Zernov had already  allowed for  a  different
system of simulation in the building of the duplicate airplane on the way to
Moscow from Mirny. Did this coincide with what Martin had described?
     "To some  extent,"  replied Zernov, after  thinking.  "Apparently,  the
clouds create different  models in unlike ways. Remember the  crimson fog in
the plane when you couldn't see across the aisle? In Sand City it isn't even
known exactly whether the fog  reached that thickness. The paper writes that
the air was transparent and pure  but coloured or lighted red.  The  type of
model should be connected  with the  density  of  the gas. I  think that the
people  in  Martin's phantom  city were  still  less human  beings  than the
passengers of our duplicate  plane. Why?  Let's  try to figure  it out.  You
remember, at Karachi, I told you that the  people in  our  airplane were not
modelled  to the full extent of their biological complexity but only  so far
as their specific functions go. The entire complicated  psychic life of  the
human being was disconnected, crossed  out because  the  makers of the model
did not need it. But the  passengers  of our plane were not  merely Aeroflot
passengers. You wouldn't say that, socially speaking, they were only  linked
by their  specific trip, would you? And there  were a  lot  of other  things
besides: the  year  spent together, work, friendly or  unfriendly  relations
with one's  neighbours, plans for the future, musings about coming reunions.
All these factors  expanded and  complicated  their  function as passengers.
That is why the creators of the model probably  had to refine it  and retain
some cells of the memory, certain mental processes. I think that life in the
duplicate plane was very much like our own."
     "Or was repeated like a tape recording," I added.
     "Hardly. They  build models not  patterns. Even in  Martin's city, life
did not repeat what was occurring  in the  real Sand City.  For example, the
police pursuit.  But note that people in this  model of  the  city are still
farther removed  from human beings. Only  the function  is  reproduced:  the
pedestrian walks,  the  driver drives a car, the  salesman  sells or  offers
goods, and buyers buy or refuse. That is all. Yet they are not puppets. They
can think, reason, and act, but only within the limits of the function. Tell
the waitress in a cafeteria of the modelled city that you don't like the hot
dogs. She will straightway say that canned hot dogs  do not spoil,  that the
can was  opened  hardly fifteen minutes  ago, but  that if you would like to
have her give you a beefsteak instead, well done or with blood, as you like,
she'll see to it. She can flirt,  wisecrack if she's smart,  since that  too
comes within  her  professional function.  That is  why she did  not  recall
Martin: he was not associated with her work."
     "But why did the policemen remember him?" Irene asked. "He didn't rob a
bank, or pick any pockets or get drunk and fight on the street. Where is the
connection with the function?"
     "You remember the  clipping from the newspaper? During  the fog  a  New
York lawyer was beaten up. The police  were late and, unfortunately, did not
find the  culprits. You noticed the 'unfortunately', didn't you?  The police
of course knew  who was to blame but did not  plan to find them. But why not
find somebody in place of them? Some kind of drunkards or bums? That was the
purpose of the police at that moment.
     In the  real Sand City they did  not find anyone. In the modelled city,
they came upon Martin and his friends.
     "I would have liked to be in his place," I said with envy.
     "And get a bullet through your head? The bullets were real."
     "And Martin's were too. Maybe he did miss after all?"
     "I don't think so," said Zernov, "it is simply that wounds dangerous to
human  beings  are not dangerous when  it  comes to  these bio-golems. Their
bodies were hardly very much like the human organism."
     "And the eyes? They saw Martin."
     "Like  a crossword puzzle," Irene laughed. "The words  fit, but they're
not the words. Certain things dovetail, but a lot doesn't."
     "Certainly a crossword puzzle," Zernov added  smiling. "What else could
it  be? You can't get  hold of the policeman  and  put him on  the operating
table to find  out what makes  him tick.  Of  course, then we would find out
whether he has the  same  innards  as  we. What do  we  have to resolve  the
problem with? A slide rule?  A microscope?  X-rays? It's  a joke. We haven't
got anything so far, except our logic. And words. Incidentally, the eyes are
not  the  same," he said, referring to my  remark. "They saw Martin but they
didn't see  the sun. They are not  our eyes. Because they were programmed to
exist only within the  limits of a certain modelled  hour. Time  itself  was
simulated. And the cars on  the  highway were modelled in motion  within the
limits  of  the same interval of time and the  same region of space. That is
how it came about that they entered the twin city  from nowhere and vanished
into no one knows where. A real puzzle," he smiled.
     "Camouflage," I added. "Something  like our houses. The outside wall is
a real wall and the inside empty, a void, a black  nothingness. I'd like  to
see it through,"  I said, sighing. "We're supposed to  be eye-witnesses, but
what have we. seen? Not much."
     "We'll see  some  more,"  put in  Zernov  mysteriously, "you and I  and
Martin  too  are  labelled.  They'll show  us  something  new  yet,  perhaps
accidentally but maybe purposely. I'm afraid they will."
     "You're afraid?" I asked in surprise.
     "Yes,  I'm  afraid,"  Zernov  said and fell silent. The  plane had  cut
through the clouds and  was  descending towards the distant city shrouded in
haze with the familiar, from  childhood, silhouette of the delicate lacework
of the Eiffel Tower.  From a distance it looked like  an obelisk made of the
finest nylon thread.














     In  connection  with  the  coming  congress,  Paris  was  flooded  with
tourists. Our delegation  stayed  at the  Homond  Hotel, a small first-class
establishment that  was  proud of being old-fashioned. The wooden staircases
creaked,  the  heavy  draperies  were   dust  covered  and  elegant  ancient
chandeliers reminded one of Balzac's day. Candles were alight on the tables,
windowsills, at hearth  places-not as a tribute to fashion, but  as stubborn
competitors of  electricity, which was  something  they had  to put up with,
nothing  more. The Americans  did not like that arrangement, but we  did not
seem to feel it. Perhaps because we hardly stayed inside for more than a few
minutes. Irene and I spent the  two hours before the press conference taking
our  first sights of the city. I  gaped at every architectural  wonder while
she condescendingly explained when and for whom it was built.
     "How come you know Paris so well?" I asked in surprise.
     "This is my third visit, and then I was born in Paris. My baby carriage
travelled these  very streets. I'll tell  you about it  some day,"  she said
mysteriously and laughed out loud. "Even the doorman at the hotel greeted me
like an old acquaintance."
     "When?"
     "When you paid  off the taxicab. Zernov and I  went in to the lobby and
the doorman-an  old bald-headed lord,  you  might say-looked  us  over  with
professional indifference,  and  then suddenly opened his eyes wide, stepped
back and  looked at me intently. 'What's the trouble?' I asked in  surprise.
But there he stood looking  at me,  silent.  So Zernov asked: 'You  probably
recognize   mademoiselle?'  'No,   no,'  he   said  collecting   his   wits,
'mademoiselle is simply very much like one of our clients.' But he seemed to
recognize me, though I've never stayed at that hotel. Strange."
     When we returned to the hotel,  the doorman did not even look at Irene,
but he smiled and said that we were expected. "Go straight to the rostrum".
     The conference was indeed just about to begin in the restaurant hall of
the hotel. The Americans had already arrived and took up the greater part of
the concert stage.  Television operators were racing about with  their black
boxes. Correspondents and newsmen with cameras, notebooks and tape recorders
were  set up  at  desks.  Waiters were  offering bottles with  multicoloured
labels. We  had a  table  on the stage  too, and it  had already  been  well
supplied with all  manner of drinks by the  Americans. Irene remained in the
hall; no translation was needed since all, or nearly all, present spoke both
French and English. True, my French was not much. I understood fairly  well,
but couldn't speak very well, but I figured  Zernov's presence would relieve
me of  most  of  the conversation.  I was wrong on  that score, though.  The
newsmen were out to squeeze every ounce of us "witnesses of the phenomenon".
And what  is more,  I was the author of the film  that  was  making a  great
impression on Parisian audiences for the second week now.
     The conference was chaired by MacEdou, an astronomer  from MacMurdo. He
was already used to the reporters wisecracks about MacEdou from MacMurdo and
"much  ado about MacEdou." But he was hard to embarrass. He steered our ship
in the conference storm  with the skill of an experienced helmsman. Even his
voice  was that of a  captain-loud, imperative especially when the questions
got too insistent.
     It  was not by accident  that  I  referred to the  storm.  Three  hours
previously, journalists met in another Parisian  hotel with another "witness
of  the phenomenon"  and  a delegate  to the  congress, Admiral Thompson. He
refused to take part in our press conference for reasons  which he preferred
to tell newsmen in a private talk. The import of the reasons and the gist of
his pronouncements became clear after the first queries were posed.
     The delegates specifically questioned gave  their  answers,  all  other
queries were  handled  by MacEdou. I didn't remember  everything, but what I
did went like a tape-recording.
     "Do  you have  any  information  about  the press conference of Admiral
Thompson?"
     That was the first  tennis ball thrown into the  hall and it was tossed
back by the chairman as follows:
     "I'm sorry to say I know nothing, but  honestly speaking, I am not very
worried."
     "But that's a sensational statement the Admiral made."
     "Very possible."
     "He demands preventive measures against the rose clouds."
     "You print that in your papers. I would like questions."
     "What will you say if some of the UN delegates demand punitive measures
against the newcomers?"
     "I am not  the  minister  for war,  I can't  say  anything  about  such
demands."
     "But if you were the minister what would you say?"
     "Haven't been thinking along those lines for a career."
     Laughter  and applause  was the reply of  the hall. MacEdou made a  wry
face, he didn't like  theatrical effects. Not even smiling he took  his seat
without a word, since the man who had asked the question gave up.
     But  he  was quickly  followed  by a second one.  He  did  not  risk  a
collision with the eloquence of MacEdou and picked another victim.
     "I would like to ask Professor Zernov a question. Do you agree that the
actions of the rose clouds might endanger humanity?"
     "Of course not," Zernov responded at once.  "So far the clouds have not
done any harm at all to human beings. Reduction of  the terrestrial ice mass
will only improve the climate. No damage has been inflicted either on nature
or on the work of man."
     "Do you insist on that view?"
     "Absolutely. The only harm  done was  to a stool  that  disappeared  in
Mirny together with my duplicate, and an automobile that Martin left in  the
duplicated Sand City."
     "What automobile?"
     "When?"
     "Where's Martin?"
     "Martin's coming tomorrow evening." That was MacEdou.
     "Was he in Sand City?"
     "Ask him yourself."
     "How does Professor Zernov know about Martin's car that vanished?"
     MacEdou turned round to Zernov and looked  questioningly at him. Zernov
said:
     "I  have the  news directly from Martin himself. I am not empowered  to
give the details, however. But I think that one old stool and a  second-hand
car is not so much damage to humanity."
     "A question for  Professor Zernov!" came  several cries from the  hall.
"What  is  your  attitude  towards  the  Admiral's  statement  that  doubles
represent a 5th column  of the invaders and a prelude  to a  future galactic
war?"
     "I feel that the  Admiral has been reading too much science  fiction of
late and he takes it all for reality."
     "A question  to Anokhin, author of the film. The Admiral  believes that
you  are  a double and that your film  was taken  by  a  double, whereas the
episode of the death of  your  double in  the film was actually the death of
Anokhin himself. Have you proof that this is not true?"
     I could only shrug my shoulders. How could I prove it? MacEdou answered
for me:
     "Anokhin  doesn't  need  to  offer any  proof. In  science  we have the
inviolate principle  of 'presumption of  an established fact'. Scientists do
not  need to verify and prove the  falsity of some groundless assertion, let
the author prove that his assertion is true."
     There  was  some  more  applause.  But  this  time  the  lanky  MacEdou
interrupted the hand-clapping: "This is not a show, gentlemen."
     "What does the  chairman think about Mr. Thompson?" someone cried  out.
"You worked with the Admiral  for a whole year  in  an Antarctic expedition.
What is your impression of him as a scientist and as a man?"
     "That's  the  first  reasonable  question  so  far,"  MacEdou  grinned.
"Unfortunately, I  cannot  satisfy  the  curiosity  of  the  questioner. The
Admiral and  I worked in  the same expedition  and at  the same geographical
site,  but  in  different  spheres. He  is  an  administrator  and  I am  an
astronomer. We  hardly ever came  into contact. He never displayed the least
interest in my astronomical  observations  and I  do not care a  bit for his
administrative abilities.  I'm  pretty  sure  he himself  lays  no  claim to
scientific  titles,  at  any  rate  I  am  not  acquainted with any  of  his
scientific  papers.  As a  person, I  hardly know  him at all,  though  I am
convinced that he is honest and is not acting in the interest of politics or
in  self-interest. He has not made an oath to anticommunism nor is he taking
part in the presidential campaign. What he preaches is,  I believe, based on
a false prejudice and on erroneous conclusions."
     "What is your opinion about how humanity should act?"
     "Recommendations will be given by the Congress."
     "Then I have  a  question that  concerns you as an astronomer. Where do
you think these monsters have come from?"
     MacEdou laughed out loud for the first time and quite sincerely.
     "I don't find anything so monstrous in  them. They resemble horsemen or
the delta-wing of an airplane, sometimes a very large and pretty flower, and
at other  times a  rose-colour dirigible. Probably  aesthetic views  differ,
theirs  and  ours. We'll  find  out  where  they  have  come  from when they
themselves desire to answer  that question, if of course we are able to pose
it.  It  may be  they are  from a  neighbouring stellar  system. Perhaps the
Andromeda Nebula, or from  the  nebula in the Triangle  constellation.  It's
senseless to guess."
     "You said:  when  they answer  themselves.  So  you  think  contact  is
possible?"
     "So far not a single attempt at contact has yielded any results. But it
is attainable. Of that I am  convinced if they are living intelligent beings
and not biosystems with a specific programme."
     "Do you have in view robots?"
     "I do  not refer  to  robots.  I  have  in view programmed  systems  in
general. In that case, contact depends on the programme."
     "But what if they are self-programming systems?"
     "Then everything depends on how the programme varies under the  effects
of external factors. Attempts at contact are also an external factor."
     "May  I ask Anokhin a question? Did you  observe the  actual process of
model construction?"
     "It  can't  be  observed,"  I  remarked, "because the  person is  in  a
comatose state."
     "But a copy  of the tracked vehicle appeared  right before your eyes. A
huge machine made of  metal and plastic. Where did it come from? Out of what
materials was it made?"
     "Out of the air," I said.
     There was laughter in the hall.
     "There is nothing to laugh about," Zernov put  in. "That's exactly what
it  is: from the  air, out of  elements  unknown to us and delivered in some
kind of novel manner."
     "A miracle?" came the question with a measure of mockery.
     But Zernov was not taken aback.
     " 'Miracles' has been the label, at one  time or another,  for anything
that could not be accounted for at the  given level  of knowledge. Our level
likewise  allows  for   the   unaccountable,  but   it  also  presumes  that
explanations will be forthcoming in the  course of subsequent development of
scientific  progress.  And its momentum  at  present  already  allows  us to
predict, roughly  of course, that in the middle or  towards  the end of next
century it  will  be  possible to  reproduce objects  by means of waves  and
fields. What waves  and  what  fields  is  a matter for the  level of future
knowledge. But I am personally convinced that in  that corner of the cosmos,
whence these beings came, science and life have already reached that level."
     "What  kind of  life is  it?" asked a woman's voice, or so it seemed to
me, with a hysterical ring  to it  and obvious horror. "How  can we converse
with it if it is a liquid, what sort of contact is possible if it is a gas?"
     "Here,  drink some water," MacEdou  calmly took over. "I don't see you,
but it seems to me that you are overexcited."
     "I am simply beginning to believe Mr. Thompson."
     "I congratulate  Mr.  Thompson  on  another  convert.  As  to  thinking
structures consisting of  a liquid or colloid, I can say that we exist  in a
semiliquid state.  The chemistry  of our life is the chemistry of carbon and
aqueous solutions."
     "And the chemistry of their life?"
     "What is the solvent? Ours is water, and theirs?"
     "Maybe its fluorine life?"
     The answer came from an American on the extreme right.
     "Everything that I am  going  to  say is hypothetical.  Fluorine  life?
Don't  know. In that case the solvent might be hydrogen fluoride or fluorine
oxide. Then it's  a  cold planet. For  fluorine creatures  a temperature  of
minus  one  hundred  degrees is  pleasantly cool. To put  it mildly, in that
coolish medium,  ammonium life  is possible too. It is even  more  realistic
since  ammonia occurs  in the atmospheres of  many  of  the  major  planets,
whereas liquid ammonia exists at a  temperature of thirty-five degrees below
zero. Almost terrestrial conditions, you might say. And if one gives thought
to  the adaptability of the  guests  to our earthly  conditions, the ammonia
hypothesis will appear to be the most probable. But if one presumes that the
strangers themselves create the necessary  conditions  for  their life,  any
other hypothesis, even the most unlikely, is possible."
     "A  question for  the chairman as  a mathematician and astronomer. What
was the Russian mathematician Kolmogorov referring to when he said that upon
an encounter with extraterrestrial life we might even be unable to recognize
it? Isn't this a case?"
     MacEdou replied without a smile.
     "He undoubtedly had in mind questions that are sometimes asked at press
conferences."
     There  was  again  laughter  in  the  hall  and  again  the  reporters,
sidestepping MacEdou, attacked  from  the flanks. The  next  victim was  the
physicist Vierre, who had just taken a drink of whiskey and soda.
     "Mr.  Vierre,  you  are a  specialist in  elementary  particle physics,
aren't you?"
     "Let's say yes."
     "Well, if the clouds are material, that means  they consist of familiar
elementary particles, isn't that true?"
     "I don't know, it might be otherwise."
     "But most  of  the world  we know consists of  nucleons, electrons, and
quanta of radiation."
     "And if we  reside in the smaller part of the known world or of a world
that  we do  not  know  anything  about? And suppose that world  consists of
totally unknown particles that have no counterparts in our physics?"
     The questioner was floored by the sudden supposition of Vierre. At this
point somebody else remembered me.
     "Couldn't the cameraman Anokhin say what he  thinks of  the hit song of
his film in Paris?"
     "I don't know it," I said, "and what  is  more I haven't even  seen  my
film in Paris."
     "But it's been shown all over the world. In the Pleyaut Hall Ive Montan
sings  it. In the United  States, Pete Seeger. In London, the Beatles have a
version. Perhaps you've heard it in Moscow."
     I could only shrug.
     "But it was written by a Russian. Csavier only made the arrangement for
jazz." And then he rather musically sang the familiar words in French:
     "the horsemen from nowhere...."
     "I know," I cried out. "The author is  a friend of mine,  also a member
of the Antarctic expedition, Anatoly Dyachuk."
     "Dichuk?" someone asked.
     "Not Dichuk, but Dyachuk," I  corrected. "Poet, scientist and composer.
..."  I  caught Zernov's ironic  glance, but  I paid no attention: here  was
Tolya getting famous. I was tossing his name to the newspapers of Europe and
America  and not fearing  to be out of tune, I took  it up in Russian,  "The
horsemen from nowhere... What is it, a dream or a myth?..."
     I  was no longer  singing alone, the whole hall had picked up the song,
some  in French, others in English  and still others without the words. When
everything quieted down, MacEdou delicately rang his bell.
     "I think the conference is over, gentlemen," he said.








     After the press conference we went to our rooms and agreed  to meet  in
an hour for  dinner  in  the  same restaurant. I  was more tired  after that
session than in some  of the most  exhausting  Antarctic  treks. Only a good
sleep could clarify my  thoughts and bring  me out of the dull apathy that I
was in. But sleep, the thing I  most needed, wouldn't come no matter  what I
did. I tossed from side to side on the couch. Finally, I got up, put my head
under the cold-water faucet and went to the restaurant to finish off the day
so loaded  with impressions. But  the day was  not yet over, and impressions
were  still  to come.  One  of them passed fleetingly without attracting  my
attention, though at first it appeared rather strange.
     I  was going  down  the staircase  behind a  man  in  a brown  military
uniform. Wasn't  it,  with square  shoulders? The grey whiskers and the crew
cut  emphasized still  more  the  military in him. Straight as a ramrod,  he
passed  the French  doorman  without  turning  his head,  and  then suddenly
stopped, turned and asked:
     "Etienne?"
     I  got the  impression -that the cold  official  eyes  of  the  doorman
flashed a sign of real fear.
     "I beg your pardon, sir?" he said with professional readiness.
     I slowed down.
     "Remember me?" the whiskered man asked smiling slightly.
     "Yes, sir, I do," the Frenchman said in almost a whisper.
     "That's good," the other replied, "it's good when people remember you."
     And  he went  down to  the restaurant. Purposely stamping  hard on  the
creaky steps, I  went down the stairs, and with an innocent  face asked  the
doorman:
     "You don't know that  gentleman  who  just entered  the restaurant,  do
you?"
     "No, Monsieur,"  replied the Frenchman looking me over  with  the  same
indifference of the official. "A tourist from West Germany.  If you want  me
to, I can find out in the registry."
     "No, no," I replied  and went on, forgetting almost  at once about what
had occurred.
     "Yuri," said a familiar voice.
     I turned around. There was Donald Martin coming towards me in an absurd
suede jacket and brightly coloured sports shirt with open collar.
     He had been  sitting  alone at  a long table drinking some kind of dark
brown beverage.  He  embraced me and the heavy odour of liquor hit me in the
face. But he wasn't drunk, the same old Martin, big  bear-like and decisive.
This  meeting somehow brought me back to the icy wastes of the Antarctic, to
the mystery of  the rose  clouds  and  the secret hope,  warmed  by Zernov's
words, that "you and  I  and Martin are labelled.  They'll show us something
new yet. I'm afraid they will." Personally, I wasn't afraid. I was waiting.
     We  reminisced for only a short time before  dinner was served.  Zernov
and Irene appeared. Our end of the table livened up right away. We became so
noisy that a young lady and a little girl in glasses got up and  went to the
far  end of  the  table. The  little girl put a  thick  book  in a colourful
binding on the table; opposite  them a  kind  looking provincial cure took a
seat. He looked at  the girl and  said. "What  a  little  girl  and  already
wearing glasses!"
     "She reads too much," her mother complained.
     "And what's that you're reading?" asked the cure.
     "Fairy tales," the girl answered.
     "Which one do you like best?"
     "The Pied Piper of Hamelin."
     The  cure was indignant:  "You  shouldn't let  a  child  that  age read
stories like that."
     "What if she has a vivid imagination?"
     "She'll have nightmares?"
     "Oh, that's nothing,"  said the  lady  indifferently.  "She'll read and
forget it."
     Irene distracted me from the cure and the girl.
     "Let's change  places," she suggested. "I'd rather that guy over  there
looked at my back."
     I turned around and saw the man with the whiskers, the acquaintance-and
an unpleasant one  it must have  been-with  whom the doorman decided not  to
reveal. The whiskers were looking intently at Irene, too much so in fact.
     "You have the luck," I grinned. "Another old acquaintance of yours?"
     "The same as the lord in the office. Never seen him before."
     At this  point a journalist from Brussels took a  seat near us.  I  had
seen  him  at the press conference. He had  come  here  a  week ago and knew
practically everyone.
     "Who's that gentleman over there?" I asked him nodding in the direction
of the whiskers.
     "Lange," said the Belgian  screwing up a  face. "Herman Lange from West
Germany. I  think he has a law firm in  Dusseldorf. An unpleasant character.
And next to him, not at the table d'hote, at the next table, do you see  the
man  with jerking face and hands? The famous Italian Carresi, film  producer
and the husband of Violetta Cecci. She's not here right now, she's finishing
a film in Palermo. They say he  got a smashing script for her in a new film.
Variations on historical themes, cloak and dagger stuff.  Incidentally,  the
man opposite him with  the black eye-bank, he's a well-known figure too,  in
the same line:
     Gaston Mongeusseau, the first swordsman of France... ."
     He continued to  name celebrities around the hall, giving details  that
we immediately forgot.  It was only  when the first dish was served that  he
came to a halt. Then, no one knows why, everybody stopped talking. A strange
silence gripped  the  hall, one could hear only the clinking  of knives  and
forks on dishes. I looked at Irene.  She  too was  eating in silence, rather
lazily, with half-open eyes.
     "What's the matter?" I asked her.
     "Want  to  sleep," she said, hiding a yawn, "and my head aches. I'm not
going to wait for the dessert."
     She got  up and left. Others  followed. Zernov,  after a few minutes of
silence, said that he too would probably leave to look over the materials of
his speech. Then the  Belgian left.  Soon  the  restaurant  was  practically
empty, only the waiters were still mooning about like sleepy flies.
     "What's this desertion about?" I asked one of them.
     "An  unexplainable desire  to  sleep, Monsieur. Don't you feel that way
yourself? They say  the atmospheric  pressure has changed sharply.  There'll
probably be a thunderstorm."
     Then he too left, dragging his feet, practically asleep.
     "Are you afraid of a thunderstorm?" I asked Martin.
     "Not on the ground," he said laughing.
     "Let's take a look around to see what Paris is like at night."
     "What's happened to the light?" he asked suddenly.
     It had grown dim all of a sudden and had taken on a mirky reddish hue.
     "I can't make it out."
     "The red fog of Sand City. D'you get my letter?"
     "You think it's they again? Nonsense."
     "They might have taken a dive down here."
     "Is it at Paris as such or this hotel in particular?"
     "Who knows?" Martin said with a sigh.
     "Let's go out," I suggested.
     When we passed the office of the doorman, I noticed that it was somehow
different  from  what  it  had been  before.  Everything  had  changed.  The
draperies weren't the same, the lampshade in place of a chandelier, a mirror
that hadn't been there. I told Martin but he was unconcerned.
     "Don't remember. You're thinking up things."
     I looked at the doorman  and was still more surprised. This  was a  new
man. Very much like the other one, but still not the same. Much younger,  no
baldness  and dressed in a striped apron he didn't have on before, as far as
I could remember. Maybe his son had taken over.
     "Come on, come on," Martin called.
     "Where you going, Monsieur?" the  doorman stopped us.  There  was-or it
seemed to me-an ominous note in his voice.
     "Does it make any difference to you?" I asked in  English. Let him show
some respect, that's what 1 thought.
     But he did not respond, he only said:
     "Curfew, Monsieur. You can't go out. You run a risk."
     "What's got into him, mad or what?" I said to Martin.
     "The hell with him," Martin replied. "Come on."
     And we went out into the street.
     But we stopped stock still and reached out for each other so  as not to
fall. The  darkness was complete, no shadows, no  light, only  an even dense
ink-like darkness.
     "What's this," Martin said hoarsely. "Paris without light?"
     "Don't know what it is."
     "Jesus, there's not a light, nothing."
     "The power mains must have broken."
     "No candles even, nothing!"
     "Maybe it'd be better to go back, what do you think?"
     "No," said Martin stubbornly,  "I'm not  giving up so soon,  let's  see
what's up."
     "At what?"
     Without answering, he went ahead.  I followed holding on to his pocket.
Then we stopped. A star flashed high up in the black sky. Another flash shot
out to the left of us. I tried to catch the light and touched glass. We were
standing  near  a  shop show-window.  Without  separating from  Martin,  and
drawing him along after me, I felt my way forward.
     "This wasn't here before," I said stopping.
     "What's that?" asked Martin.
     "This show-window. And the shop too. Irene and I walked this way. There
was an iron fence. It's not here now."
     "Wait a minute," Martin was apprehensive. It  wasn't the  fence or  the
window that bothered him. He was listening.
     In front of us something crashed a couple of times.
     "Sounds like thunder," I said.
     "More like a burst of submachine-gun fire," Martin objected.
     "You sure?"
     "You think I don't know the difference between thunder and gunfire?"
     "I guess we ought to go back."
     "Let's  go on for a while. Maybe  we'll meet  somebody. Where  the hell
have all the people of Paris gone to?"
     "Listen, that's shooting. Who? Where?"
     As if to confirm my words,  the  gun gave another burst. Then the noise
sank  into  that of  an  approaching  car. Two beams  of  light bit into the
darkness, licked the stone pavement. I shuddered.  Why stone pavement?  Both
streets around our hotel just hours ago were asphalt.
     Martin  poked me in the dark suddenly and  pressed me  to  the  wall. A
truck with men in the back raced past us.
     "Soldiers,"   said   Martin/They're  in  uniform   and  helmets.   With
submachine-guns."
     "How did you find out?" I was surprised. "I didn't notice anything."
     "Training."
     "You know what," I thought out loud, "I don't think we're in Paris, and
the hotel is not ours, and the street's different too."
     "That's what I've been telling you."
     "What?"
     "The red fog. Remember? They've dived in, that's definite."
     At that moment somebody up above  us opened a window. We could hear the
squeak of the frame and  the  shaking  of a  poorly nailed down window pane.
There was no  light. But  from the darkness over our heads, a hoarse squeaky
voice- typical of a French radio announcer-a radio was on the windowsill.
     "Attention! Attention!  You will now hear the report of  the commandant
of  the city. The two  British pilots that landed by parachute  from a plane
shot down are still hiding out in St. Disier.
     In one quarter of  an hour, the search will begin.  Every block will be
combed,  house  by  house.  All  men  found  in  the  house  with the  enemy
parachutists will be shot. Only immediate release of the hiding enemies will
halt this operation."
     Something clicked in the radio and the voice died out.
     "Get that?" I asked Martin.
     "I guess so, they're looking for some kind of pilots.'"
     "English."
     "In Paris?"
     "No, in some kind of St. Disier."
     "They're going to shoot somebody?"
     "All the men in the house where they find the parachutists."
     "What for? Is France at war with England?"
     "We must be delirious or under hypnosis, or asleep. Try pinching me."
     Martin pinched me so hard I yelled out.
     "Hey, don't yell, they'll take us for the English pilots."
     "Listen,  that's right," I said.  "You're almost  English. And a  pilot
too. Let's go back, it isn't far from here."
     I  walked into the darkness and found myself  in a brightly  lit  room.
Actually, only part  of it  was illuminated, like  the  corner of a film set
caught in  the beam of  a  searchlight:  the window was blacked  out  with a
drapery, the  table  was  covered  with  a  flowery  oilcloth, there  was an
enormous multicoloured  parrot on a  perch in  a high wire cage, and  an old
woman cleaning out the cage with a rag.
     From behind I heard Martin whisper, "What's all this?"
     "Haven't the slightest idea."








     The old  woman  lifted  her  head  and  looked  at  us. In  her  yellow
parchment-like face, grey curls and prim Castilian shawl there was something
artificial,  almost unreal,  improbable. Nevertheless, she was  a person and
her gimlet eyes seemed to screw into us with cold unkindness. The parrot too
was  real and alive  and  switched round to  look at  us,  his  hooked  beak
opening.
     "Excuse-moi, madam,"  I  began in my  school-day  French, "we got  here
quite by accident. Your door must have been open."
     "There's no door there," said the woman.
     Her voice squeaked like the staircase of our hotel.
     "How'd we get here then?"
     "You're not French," she squeaked at us, without replying.
     I shut up, stepped back into the darkness and bumped into a wall.
     "There isn't any door, really," said Martin.
     The old woman cackled.
     "You speak English like Peggy."
     "Do you speak English? Do you speak English?" that was the parrot.
     I was thoroughly upset. It  wasn't exactly fear, but some kind of spasm
gripping my throat. Who is mad? We or the city?
     "Strange lighting  you have here in  the room," I said. "One  can't see
the door. Where is it? We are going to leave, don't worry."
     The old woman cackled again.
     "You are the  ones  who  are  afraid, gentlemen.  Why don't you want to
speak with Peggy? You  can talk to her in English. They are afraid, Etienne,
they are afraid that you will give them away."
     I looked around: the room  had  become lighter, it seemed, and broader.
Then I saw the other end of the table, at  which  our Parisian hotel doorman
sat, not  the bald lord with the  rumpled face but  his younger  counterpart
that met Martin and me in the uncannily altered hallway.
     "Why should I give them away, mama?" he asked without  even  looking at
us.
     "You  have got to find  the English pilots. You want to give them away.
You want to and you can t.
     Young Etienne sighed loudly.
     "I can't."
     "Why?"
     "I don't know where they are hiding."
     "Find out."
     "They don't trust me any more, mama."
     "The  main thing  is that  Lange should trust you. Give them the goods.
These guys speak English too."
     "They're from another time. And they're not English.  They  came  to  a
congress."
     "There are never any congresses in St. Disler."
     "They're in Paris, mama. In the  Hotel 'Homond'. Many years later. I am
already old."
     "You are thirty years old now, and they are here."
     "I know."
     "Then give them over to Lange before the operation begins."
     I  didn't  grasp what was happening, but a  certain vague conjecture of
events  broke through to  my consciousness. Only there wasn't time to  think
things out. I already knew that the  events 'and  people about us were by no
means illusory  and that the danger indicated by their words and actions was
a real danger indeed.
     "What are they talking about?" asked Martin.
     I explained.
     "This is wholesale madness. Who are they giving us over to?"
     "The Gestapo, I think."
     "You're mad too."
     "No," I said as calmly  as  I could. "Look, we  are now in  a different
time period, in a different town, in another life. I do not know how and for
what purpose it has been modelled. Another  thing I don't know is  how we're
going to get out of here."
     While we were talking, Etienne and the old woman were  silent, switched
off, as it were.
     "Werewolves!"  Martin exploded.  "We'll get out,  I  have experience in
things like this."
     He went round the back of Etienne who was sitting at the table, grabbed
him by the lapels of his jacket and shook him up.
     "Listen, you son of a ....  Where's the  exit? You're not going to play
any more tricks with us, you aren't."
     "Where's the exit?" repeated the  parrot after  Martin.  "Where are the
pilots?"
     I  shuddered. In  a  rage  Martin threw Etienne  to the side like a rag
doll. There, to the side, was something like a  doorway, it was cloaked in a
reddish haze.
     Martin jumped through and I followed. Situations cascaded like a moving
picture: into the dark, out  of the dark. We were in the  lobby of the hotel
that we had left some time before. Etienne, whom Martin had so ungentlemanly
rough-handled a minute ago, was writing something at his  desk,  and did not
look at us or simply didn't see us.
     "Remarkable!" sighed Martin.
     "How many more miracles," I added.
     "This isn't our hotel."
     "That's what I told you when we went out into the street."
     "Come on, follow me."
     "Okay, if you insist."
     Martin  rushed to  the  door and  stopped: he  was  blocked  by  German
soldiers with submachine-guns, like in a film about the last war.
     "We  have  to  go out, into the  street," Martin said  pointing to  the
darkness.
     "Verboten!" the  German  shouted.  "Zuruck!" and  jabbed Martin in  the
chest with his gun.
     Martin stepped back, wiped his sweaty face.  He  was still boiling with
rage.
     "Let's  sit here  for a minute," I said. "Let's talk things over. Lucky
they don't shoot at least. And there's no place to run to anyway."
     We sat down at the round table covered with a dusty plush table  cloth.
This was a very old hotel, probably older even than our Homond in Paris.  It
had  nothing any  more to  be  proud of,  either  its ancient background  or
traditions. Only dust, junk, and probably fear hidden in every object.
     "What is happening?" asked Martin in a tired voice.
     "I told you. This is another period and another life."
     "I don't believe it."
     "You  don't believe  that  this life is real? And  their guns too? Why,
they wouldn't think twice about riddling you with bullets."
     "Another life," Martin  repeated in growing rage. "All their models are
taken from originals. So where is this from?"
     "I don't know."
     Zernov emerged from the darkness that sliced off a part of  the lighted
lobby.  For a second  I took  him for a double. But then some  kind of inner
conviction  told  me  that he  was  real. He  was calm,  as  if  nothing had
occurred, and did not show any surprise or concern when he saw us. Of course
he must  have been  upset, he was simply holding himself in check.  That was
the kind of person he was.
     "Martin, if  I'm  not  mistaken,"  he  said approaching him and looking
around, "you're again in a city of upsidedowns. And we're with you."
     "You know what city this is?" I asked.
     "Must be Paris, not Moscow."
     "It's  neither. We're  in  St. Disier, to the  southeast of Paris  if I
recall my map properly. A provincial town, in occupied territory."
     "Occupied by whom? There's no war now."
     "You sure?"
     "You're not delirious, are you, Anokhin?"
     No. Zernov was magnificent in his imperturbability.
     "I've already  been  delirious  once,  in  the  Antarctic," I  remarked
pointedly. "We were delirious together. By the way, what year is it  do  you
think? Not in the Homond Hotel, but here in these damn mysteries?" And so as
not to puzzle him further, I added: "When did one  hear 'Verboten' spoken in
France? Or when did German soldiers hunt for English parachutists?"
     Zernov was still puzzled, he was trying to untangle things in his mind.
     "I had already noticed the pink fog and the altered surroundings when I
went in  your direction.  But of course  I never  conjectured  anything like
that."  He  turned  round and  saw  German submachine-gun men  frozen on the
borderline between light and darkness.
     "Incidentally, they're alive," I sniggered. "And the guns they have are
real. Go up closer  and they'll punch  you  in the belly  with them and yell
'Zuruck'. Martin's already had that experience."
     The familiar curiosity of the scientist sparkled in Zernov's eyes.
     "What do you think is being modelled this time?"
     "Somebody's past. Which doesn't make our plight any better. By the way,
where did you come from?"
     "From my room. I got interested  in the reddish light when I opened the
door and found myself here."
     "Get ready for the worst," I said as I saw Lange.
     Out of the beam of light stepped  the lawyer from Dusseldorf, the one I
asked the Belgian about. The same Herman  Lange with the mustachios and crew
cut, definitely him, only  a bit taller, more elegant and younger by about a
quarter of a century. He had  on a  black uniform with the swastika, a tight
belt round his youthful  wasp  waist,  the  high  German  military  cap  and
brilliantly shined boots. He was definitely handsome, this polished Nibelung
from Himmler's elite.
     "Etienne,"  he said softly, "You said there  were  two of  them,  I see
three."
     Etienne jumped up, his face white as that of a powdered clown, and arms
straight down at full attention.
     "The third one is from another time period, Herr Ob-berhaupt-excuse me,
Herr Sturmbahn-fiihrer."
     Lange made a wry face.
     "You can call me Monsieur Lange. I told you you could. Incidentally,  I
know  where he's from just like you do. Memory of the future. But he's  here
now and that suits me. Congratulations, Etienne. And these two?"
     "English pilots, Monsieur Lange."
     "That's a  lie," I said without getting  up.  "I'm Russian too,  and my
comrade here is an American."
     "Profession?" asked Lange in English.
     "Pilot," Martin responded pulling himself up from habit.
     "But not English," I added.
     Lange replied with a bit-off laugh.
     "What difference does it make, England or  America? We're fighting both
of them."
     For a moment  I forgot about  the danger that we were in, I  wanted  so
much to put this spectre  of the past in his place. I didn't give thought to
the matter of whether he would understand me or not. I simply shouted:
     "The war  has been over for quite some  time, Mr. Lange. We're all from
another  time period and you too. Half an hour ago you and I and  the others
were  dining  in the  Homond  Hotel of  Paris, and  you had on  an  ordinary
civilian suit, Mr. tourist lawyer, and not that shining theatrical affair."
     Lange did not seem offended. On the contrary, he even laughed out loud,
and stepped into the crimson haze that was gathering.
     "That's the  way  our  nice Etienne recalls  me.  He idealizes  me  and
himself as well. Actually, things were quite different."
     The  dark red haze enveloped him completely and he  melted out of view.
It  took  hardly half a minute. But  from the  fog there emerged a different
Lange,  not so  tall, rougher and thickset, in  dirty boots and  a long dark
coat-an  exhausted  martinet  with  bloodshot  eyes  from sleepless  nights.
Holding  his gloves  in his hand he waved  them as he  approached  Etienne's
little office.
     "Where are they, Etienne? You still don't know?"
     "They don't trust me any more, Monsieur Lange."
     "Don't  try  to fool me. You're too prominent  in the  Resistance to be
under suspicion already.
     Maybe later,  but not now. You're simply afraid  of your friends in the
movement."
     He swung out and slapped  the doorman's face with his gloves. And again
and  again. Etienne only recoiled from the blows and  pulled his head deeper
into his shoulders. His  sweater bunched up on his back like the feathers of
a sparrow in the rain.
     "You're going  to be afraid  of me more  than your  underground  boys,"
Lange  continued, pulling on his gloves and  raising his voice.  "You  will,
won't you, Etienne?"
     "Yes, sir, Monsieur Lange."
     "Tomorrow at the latest find out where they're hiding. Is that clear?"
     "Yes, sir, it is, Monsieur Lange."
     The  Gestapo man turned round and  again confronted us, transformed  by
Etienne's fear from Nibelung into a man.
     "Etienne did not keep  his word because he really was under suspicion,"
he said. "But he tried his best, he wanted to betray them!  He even betrayed
the woman he loved. And, oh, how sorry he was. Not  that he had betrayed her
but  that  he couldn't get  those  two men  that escaped. That's all  right,
Etienne, we'll  correct the  past. We can. We'll shoot the  Russian and  the
American as escaped  parachutists.  The other Russian  I'll simply hang. Now
get them all over to the Gestapo! 'Patrol!' " he called.
     The whole dark dusty  lobby  filled up with German soldiers, or  so  it
seemed to me. I was surrounded, my hands were bound  and  I was kicked  into
the darkness. I fell, hit my leg and couldn't get up for a long time, and my
eyes  couldn't  make  anything out  until  they  were  used to  the  reddish
half-light that hardly at all was  scattered by the rays of a tiny bulb. All
three of us were lying on the floor of a narrow cell with no window, but the
cell was moving, we were even tossed into the air and thrown to the  side at
turnings in the route. 1 concluded that we must be in a closed car.
     The first to  get up was Martin. I flexed my  injured leg and  extended
it. Luckily there did  not seem to be any broken bones. Zernov lay stretched
out on the floor with his head resting on his arms.
     "You're not hurt, are you, Boris Arkadievich?"
     "Nothing yet," he answered curtly.
     "What's your explanation of this show?"
     "Yea, a real film,"  he grinned bitterly, but did not  want to continue
the conversation.
     But I couldn't keep quiet.
     "Somebody's past is being copied," I repeated.  "We're in this  past by
accident. But where did this police van come from?"
     "It couldn't have been standing  at the entrance. Maybe it  brought the
submachine-gunners," Zernov ventured.
     "Where are they?"
     "They're probably  in the cabin along with the  driver. The rest are in
the hotel waiting for orders from Lange. They might have been needed at that
time too; he only slightly modified the past."
     "You think this is his past?"
     "What do you think?"
     "Judging by our adventures before  we met you, this is also the past of
Etienne. They are  modifying one another. Only I  don't grasp it: what's all
this for?"
     "You  people  forgot  me!"  put  in  Martin.  "I don't  understand  any
Russian."
     "You're right,  Martin," said  Zernov,  going over  to English. "We did
forget you for a  minute here. And that's something we shouldn't do, and not
only because of comradeship. We are bound  in other ways too. You know  what
I've been thinking about all along?" he continued rising on his elbow on the
muddy  floor  of  the van.  "Is  what  is  happening accidental or  not? I'm
thinking  of your letter  to Anokhin,  Martin,  in particular  what you said
about us being labelled, that is, tagged by the cosmic newcomers. That's why
we get involved  so readily in all their activities. Now, is that accidental
or   is   it  not?  Why  wasn't   some   other   routine  plane  flying  the
Melbourn-Jakarta-Bombey line modelled. They picked on our TL' simply because
we were labelled. Is that an accident or isn't it? Suppose the 'clouds'  get
interested in American countryside life on their  way northwards. I  believe
that's possible. Now why do they pick the town connected with Martin's life?
And precisely at a  time  when he had planned to  visit it. Again, is it  by
chance or not? And again, of all the cheap Parisian hotels, they pick on the
Homond  for  their next experiment.  Why?  There are people with an exciting
past in any hotel in Paris,  practically in any house. The past of people in
contact with us is  modelled. Why? Again, is that a matter of chance or not?
Might it  not be prearranged, all done with a very  specific purpose that is
still hidden from us?"
     Zernov, it appeared  to  me, was wide  of  the  mark. The unaccountable
happenings,  the  reality  and illusory nature of  these shifts in space and
time, the sick  world of Kafka that had become our reality could  freeze any
person with terror, yet I felt that we had not yet lost our self-control and
customary  clarity of thought. Martin  and  I  looked at  one another in the
murky light of the van but did not say anything.
     Zernov laughed.
     "You  think  I'm  off  my  rocker? Well,  did you  ever hear of  Bohr's
hypothesis of craziness as a mark of the truth of a scientific hypothesis? I
don't lay any claims to the truth, I only suggest one of many possibilities.
But is this  the  contact  that thinking people  have in mind?  Are  not the
'clouds' striving to speak with human beings through us? Aren't they  trying
to tell us what they are  doing and why  they  are doing it?  Maybe they are
allowing us to enter into their experiments so as  to  reach  our intellect,
figuring  that  we  will  then  be  able  to  grasp  the  meaning  of  their
experiments."
     "A queer type of communication," I said doubtfully.
     "Suppose there isn't any other kind? They might not  even be acquainted
with our means of communication. If they  can't  utilize optic, acoustic, or
any other means of transmitting information that we  know of, what then? Let
us suppose they know nothing of  telepathy,  they  don't know languages, the
Morse code or  any  other of our signal systems.  On the other  hand, we are
unfamiliar with their types of communication. What then?"
     We were all  thrown to the side as the  van took  another turn.  Martin
crashed against me, and I pushed into Zernov.
     "I  don't  get you  guys,"  Martin  said angrily,  "they  are creating,
modelling, seeking contact,  and so we have to be hanged, shot and what not.
Somebody's nuts if you ask me."
     "They might  not  know  this. The first  experiments  and,  of  course,
mistakes." "Very  comforting as we  hang!"  "I don't think  we  will,"  said
Zernov. I didn't have  time to reply, the  car shot  upwards, the back broke
into  two pieces and a  brilliant  flash of  light  with a terrible crash of
thunder  that  lasted  a  fraction  of  a  second,  then weightlessness  and
darkness.







     With great  difficulty I opened my  lead-heavy  eyelids,  and  a fierce
piercing pain shot  through  the  back  of  my  head.  High above  me lights
twinkled  like fire-flies in the night. Were they stars? Was this the sky? I
found the Big  Dipper and realized I was out doors. It took me  some time to
move my  head, and  with every slight movement  a piercing pain responded in
the back  of  my head. Still I could make  out  the uneven blackness  of the
houses  on the  opposite side of the  street which  was wet  with  rain.  It
flickered in the darkness and I saw shadows  in the middle of the street.  A
closer look  told  me  they  were the  remnants of our van.  Dark, shapeless
pieces, asphalt broken and piled up, Or Were they  bags of something a short
distance from me?
     I was lying near the trunk of a tree that was barely distinguishable in
the  darkness, I could  even touch its  old wrinkly bark. I pulled myself up
and got to a sitting position against the trunk. It became easier to breathe
and the pain subsided. I didn't feel it any longer if I didn't move my head.
My skull was intact I figured. I touched the back of my head and  sniffed at
my fingers, the liquid was not blood but oil.
     Overcoming my weakness I rose to my feet hanging on to the tree all the
while and continuing to peer into the empty darkness of the street. Finally,
I started to walk falteringly on shaking feet, and made my way to the wreck-
our van.  "Boris Arkadievich! Martin!" I said  softly. No answer.  Finally I
went up  to something  shapeless,  stretched out  on  the pavement. A closer
look.... It was half the body of a  German in soldier's uniform. No feet, no
face. That was all  that was left of our  escort. A couple of steps  away  I
found a second  body. He was hanging  onto his gun  with  both hands, he was
lying spread-eagled in boots,  no  head. All that was left of our car  was a
heap of fragments which in the dark looked like a crumpled newspaper. I went
round it and at the curb and found Martin.
     I recognized him  immediately by the short suede  jacket and stove-pipe
trousers, no German soldiers ever wore them. I put my ear to  his chest,  it
was rhythmically rising and falling;
     Martin was  breathing.  "Don!" I cried. He gave  a jerk and  whispered,
"Who's that?" "Are you alive, man?"  "Yuri?" "Yes, it's me, can you get up?"
He nodded.  I helped him  to  his  feet  and got  him onto  the curb. He was
breathing  heavily and apparently  had not yet got used to the darkness: his
eyes blinked. We sat there a couple of minutes and then he said:
     "Where are we? I can't see anything, maybe I've gone blind?"
     "Look at the sky. Do you see any stars?"
     "Yea, I can see stars okay."
     "No broken bones?"
     "Don't think so. What's happened?"
     "Somebody must have thrown a bomb at our car. Where's Zernov?"
     "I don't know."
     I got up and went around the remains of our wreck  and took a good look
at the bodies of our escorts. Zernov was not there.
     "The situation's bad," I said when I got back, "no sign of him."
     "Were you looking at somebody?"
     "Yes, the bodies of the guards.  One has the  head missing, the other's
without feet."
     "We in the back got out alive,  so he must have too. He's probably gone
some place."
     "Without us? I don't think so."
     "Maybe he returned?"
     "Where to?"
     "To  real life. From this witch's wedding.  He  might be lucky, and  we
might be too."
     I gave a whistle.
     "We'll get out," Martin said, "just wait, we're sure to get out."
     "Be quiet, listen!"
     A  heavy door behind us  squeaked slowly  and then opened up. A beam of
bright light broke through and tore away the heavy drapery at the  door.  It
grew dark again, but the figure of a woman appeared in the flash  of  light.
She  was dressed in  black. All I  could  see now was a hazy shadow. Subdued
music was coming from beyond the door. A popular German waltz.
     The woman, still almost indistinguishable in the dark, started down the
staircase. Only the narrow sidewalk separated her from us. We sat still.
     "What's the trouble?" she asked. "Has something happened?"
     "Nothing much," I replied. "Our car's blown up, that's all."
     "Yours?" she asked in surprise.
     "The one in which we  were riding or in  which we were being driven, to
be more precise."
     "Who were you with?"
     "Soldiers, an escort, naturally," I said a bit irritated.
     "And that's all?"
     "Do you want to collect the pieces?"
     "Don't be angry. The chief of the Gestapo was supposed to be going by."
     "Who? Lange?" I asked in surprise. "He's back there in the hotel."
     "That's what was supposed to have happened,"  she said deep in thought.
"That's exactly the way it happened.  They blew up an empty van, that's all.
Where are you from? Did Etienne think you people up too?"
     "Nobody thought anybody up, Madame," I said. "We  are here by  accident
and not of our own free will. Excuse me, I do not  speak French so well.  It
is difficult for me to explain. Perhaps you know English?"
     "English?" again surprise. "But how can...."
     "I can't  explain that  to you  even in English. What  is more, I'm not
English anyway."
     "Hello, ma'am,"  put in Martin, "but  I'm from the States. You know the
song, Yankee Doodle was in hell ... and he says it's cool! Well, let me tell
you, ma'am, it's hotter in this hell."
     She laughed.
     "What shall I do with you?"
     "I'd just as soon dampen my parched throat," said Martin.
     "Follow  me.  There's  nobody  in  the  cloak-room  and  I've  let  the
hall-porter go. Your luck, Monsieur."
     We followed her into a dimly lit cloak-room. The first thing I  noticed
were the  German  army  raincoats on the hangers  and the high-crown officer
caps. Next to  the cloak-room was a tiny closet-like affair without windows.
The walls  were pasted over with sheets from film magazines. It accommodated
only two chairs and a table with a fat registry journal.
     "Is this a hotel or a restaurant?" Martin asked the woman.
     "The officer's casino."
     For  the  first  time  I  looked her  straight  in  the  face  and  was
dumbfounded,  paralysed,  speechless,  like  Lot's wife. She  became  tense,
cautious, on guard.
     "You surprised? Do you happen to know me?"
     Then Martin said: "This is interesting."
     I was silent.
     "What's all this mean, Monsieur?" the woman
     "Irene," I  said in Russian, "I  don't get  it." Why is  Irene here, in
other peoples' dreams and in a dress of the forties?
     "My god, he's Russian!" she exclaimed in Russian too.
     "How did you get here?"
     "Irene is my underground name. How do you happen to know it?"
     "I don't  know any underground names. I don't  even  know you have one.
The only thing I know is  that  an hour  ago we were  having. dinner  in the
Hotel Homond in Paris."
     "There's been some mistake," she said estranged and coldly.
     I was boiling.
     "You don't recognize me? Rub your eyes.' .
     "Who are you anyway?"
     I forgot about the dress of the forties and the surroundings brought to
life by alien recollections.
     "Which one of us has gone mad? We came-from Moscow just a  little while
ago. How could you have forgotten that?"
     "When did we come?"
     "Yesterday." I'm beginning to stutter.
     "In  what year?"  This  time  I  was  so  dumbfounded,  my  mouth  just
opened-what could I say if she could ask a question like that?
     "Don't be  surprised, Yuri," Martin whispered  behind  me:  he couldn't
understand anything but  guessed what was exciting me  so. "This is  not she
but a werewolf."
     She was still looking at me and Martin as total strangers.
     "Memory  of  the future," she  said mysteriously.  "It may  be that  he
thought  of that at some time. Perhaps he even met you  and her. Looks  like
me? And  her  name's  Irene? Strange."  "Why?"  I couldn't  contain  myself.
"Because I had a daughter  named Irene.  In  1940 she was about a year  old.
Osovets took her to  Moscow, before the  fall of Paris." "What Osovets?  The
academician?" "No, just a scientist. He worked with Paul Langevin."
     A  spark shot through the darkness. That's the way it is sometimes, you
rack  your  brain over some problem  and  then all  of a sudden you  gain  a
hypnotizing flash of a solution. "And what  about you and your husband?" "My
husband left with the embassy for Vichy. He left later and alone. He stopped
at some farm along the way, the water in the radiator  was boiling, or maybe
he simply wanted a drink of water. The roads were being bombed. That's  all.
A  direct hit ...." She  smiled wistfully, probably used to it by  now,  she
smiled. "I smile this way because that is precisely the way Etienne imagines
me. Actually, it was terrible, awful."
     Everything  coincided. Osovets was not an academician yet at that time,
but he had worked  with Langevin. That I knew. Obviously, he was the one who
had brought Irene up. And  it was  from him that she  had  learned about her
mother. And about the similarity too,  probably. But what has Etienne got to
do with it all?
     I couldn't but ask her about it. She laughed.
     "The point is  that I am his imagination.  He is most  likely  thinking
about me right this minute. He was in love with me, head over heels in love.
And still and all he betrayed me."
     I  recalled  the  words  of  Lange:  "He  betrayed  the  woman  he  was
desperately, hopelessly in love with. He wanted to  betray so much." So this
was before our encounter with the Gestapo. That means that in  this life the
reference system of time was quite different. It was  shuffled like cards in
a deck.
     "Perhaps you  want  something to eat?" she  suddenly asked  in quite  a
human way.
     "I wouldn't refuse a drink," said Martin, guessing at what the topic of
conversation was.
     She  nodded, screwed up her eyes just like  Irene and smiled. Even  the
smiles were the same.
     "Wait for me here, no one  will  come. But if they do.... You of course
haven't any  weapons."  She moved a board under the table and pulled  out  a
handgrenade and a small flat Browning. "It's not  a  toy, don't laugh,  very
reliable,  particularly at  close  range." She  left. I took  the  Browning,
Martin the handgrenade.
     "That's Irene's mother," I said.
     "This is getting worse and worse, where'd she come from?"
     "She says Etienne conjured her up. She was with  him  in the Resistance
during the war."
     "Another werewolf," he said, and spat in  disgust,  "I'd  like to heave
this grenade into the whole bunch of them." He slapped his pocket.
     "Don't get  excited. They're real  human beings.  People,  not puppets.
This isn't Sand City."
     "Human beings!" mocked Martin. "They know they are repeating somebody's
life, they even know  the future  of the life they are  duplicating. This is
worse  than 'Dracula'. D'ya ever  see that film? About vampires. Dead in the
daytime, alive at night. That's human beings for  you. I'm afraid that after
a  night  of happenings like that we'll  need strait-jackets. If, of course,
they  don't knock  us out. I  wonder what the  papers  would  say. Killed by
visitors from  the past life of Mr. Lange. Spectres with guns. Or  something
like that."
     "Hey,  pipe down,"  I said,  "we might  be heard. It's  not so bad yet.
We've even got guns. Maybe things will turn out all right."
     Irene returned. I did not know her name and so, to myself, kept calling
her Irene.
     "I can't bring drinks in here," she said, "we  might be seen.  Let's go
into the  bar. They're all drunk in there, and two more guests will not mean
anything. The barman has  been warned. But tell  the American to keep  quiet
and  to  answer  all  questions  in French  with 'Sore throat, can't speak."
What's your name? Martin. Repeat that, Martin, 'Sore throat, can't speak'."
     Martin repeated  the sentence in French a few times to get  used to it.
She corrected him.
     "Okey, that'll do. You'll be safe for half an hour for sure. In half an
hour  Lange'll return with  a miner and the  submachine-gunners. There's  an
inside staircase leading from the bar into an upper room where General Baire
is playing bridge. Under his  table is a delayed-action mine, in  forty-five
minutes the building will explode."
     "Jesus Christ!" I yelled. "Let's get a move on then."
     "It  won't,  don't get excited,"  she said sadly. "Etienne has reported
everything to Lange. I'll be caught upstairs in Baire's room, the miner will
disconnect the timing device, and Lange will be promoted to Sturmbahnfuhrer.
You  will wait a  couple of minutes after he  leaves and then you can  leave
quietly yourselves."
     I opened my mouth  and  closed it again. That  was a conversation for a
psychiatric ward. But she continued:
     "Don't be surprised. Etienne  was not  there  at  the  time,  but Lange
remembers  everything. He went into every corner and interrogated every  one
of the guests. He has an excellent memory. It took place exactly the way you
will see it."
     We  followed  without a  word, trying not  to look at  one another  and
refusing to make sense of the events. There was no sense.








     There was a  card game  going  in the  first room.  The  stench was  of
tobacco smoke so  thick you could hardly make things out. Like waves, it got
thicker  and  then  dispersed,  but even  in the  more  translucent  moments
everything looked strangely deformed, fluid, changing, as if the outlines of
this world did not obey the laws of Euclidean  geometry. A long ski-like arm
would  reach out, cards  all extended, and hoarse voices overlapping,  "five
another five,... pass... lead...". Then the whole would  be blanketed out by
a tray with cognac,  and  on the long label somebody's face-like on  TV-with
neatly  trimmed mustachios, or the face would be transformed into a  placard
with a mug yelling "VER-BOTEN!  VERBOTEN!  VERBOTEN!" Or  grey heads without
faces, a voice in the smoke repeating "Thirty minutes, ...  thirty minutes."
The cards rustled like leaves in the wind. The lights grew dim. Eyes smarted
from the smoke.
     "Irene," I called.
     She turned around.
     "I'm not Irene."
     "It's all the same. What is this? The mirror-laughing room?"
     "What's that?"
     "Don't you remember? In the park? All those distorting mirrors?"
     "No," she smiled.  "It's simply that nobody remembers the  surroundings
exactly.  The  details. Etienne  is trying  to  recall them. Lange  has only
fleeting disconnected glimpses, he cannot think through to minutiae."
     I  was stuck again.  What was all  this about? I had an inkling but not
much more.
     "This is a dream, sure thing," said Martin more confused than before.
     "The memory cells of  two  persons  are  at work." I  tried  to find an
explanation of some kind. "Conceptions are materialized, and they  conflict,
suppressing one another."
     "Hogwash," he said.
     We entered the bar. It was behind an archway separated from the hall by
a  curtain  hung on  bamboo  poles. German  officers  were morosely swilling
liquor at the counter. No chairs.  Couples on a long couch-like affair  were
kissing. I figured that Lange must have remembered this spectacle very well.
But none of the performers even  looked at us. Irene whispered to the barman
and then disappeared in a hole in the  wall where a stone staircase went up.
The barman put two glasses of cognac  in front of us  and left. Martin tried
it.
     "The real thing," he said and licked his lips.
     "Shh..." I hissed, "you're not an American, you're French."
     "Sore throat, can't speak," he blurted out and winked slyly.
     But nobody was listening to us. I looked at the clock. Lange was due in
fifteen minutes.  I got an  idea. If Lange,  say, does not reach  the  upper
room,  and the miner  does not defuse the  mine, General Baire and his bunch
will neatly go  up  into a  million pieces.  That's interesting. Lange  will
arrive with a submachine-gunner and the miner. The miner most likely  has no
weapon,  they'll  leave  the armed man  near the entrance  to the  stairway.
There's a chance.
     In whispers  I told Martin about my idea.  He  nodded. There was slight
risk  of the officers in the bar getting involved-they could hardly stand on
their feet. Some were  already snoring on the couch. The kissing couples had
disappeared somewhere. The situation was very favourable.
     Another  ten minutes  passed.  Another minute,  two, three.  There were
seconds left. That was when  Lange  entered. Not the Lange that we  knew but
the  Lange  of  the  past, not yet  a Sturmbahnfuhrer. If he  recalled  this
episode, we  did  not participate and  so we were out of danger. The actions
were programmed by memory: reach the mine and prevent  a catastrophe. He was
accompanied by  an oldish soldier in glasses  and  a very young Gestapo  man
with a submachine-gun. He went  fast, not stopping anywhere, gave a piercing
glance at the officers  sitting round their cognac and hurried upstairs with
the  miner.  They were  in a  hurry. As  we  guessed, the  submachine-gunner
remained at the bottom of the staircase. That very second  Martin stepped up
to him and, without swinging, punched straight to  the nose  and knocked him
off his feet. He didn't even drop his gun.  Martin grabbed him in the air. I
had the Browning and raced up the  stairs  towards Lange who turned  around.
"Drop, Yuri," Martin shouted. I  did and that instant a  burst  of  fire cut
down  both  of them:  Lange  and the miner. All  this took a fraction  of  a
second. Nobody even looked out of the bar room.
     But, from above, "Irene" looked down. A few seconds passed, then slowly
she began to descend, without  asking any questions she passed  the  dead SS
men crouching on the steps.
     "Did anyone hear the shots?" I asked looking upwards.
     "Nobody  except me.  They are so engaged in their game that  they won't
even hear  the explosion." She shuddered and closed her face with her hands.
"Oh, my God, they haven't defused the mine."
     "That's perfect, on the contrary," I exclaimed. "Let the whole works go
to hell. Come on, let's get out of here."
     She still couldn't make things out.
     "But that is not what happened then."
     "That's  what's going to  happen now, though." I grabbed her  hand. "Is
there another exit?"
     "Yes."
     "Then you lead the way."
     She led the way as if walking in her sleep, she got  us out to the dark
street below. Martin wiped out the guard below in the same fashion.
     "That's four," he said, "didn't even need the grenade."
     "Five," I corrected him. "Your count began in the Antarctic."
     "Now they'll have to begin modelling a heaven for them."
     A few more words were exchanged as we ran down the middle of the street
in an  unknown direction in  total darkness. Suddenly something exploded and
then  a  burst  of fiery sparks  shot  skywards.  For  an instant, "Irene's"
enormous eyes flashed  in front of me. It was only then that I noticed  that
this "Irene" was not wearing glasses.
     A  siren  wailed in the  distance. Then a car motor coughed into action
Then another. The blaze of the fire had now lit up the whole street.
     "How could this be?" "Irene" suddenly asked. "That means  I'm alive? Is
this another life? Not that one?"
     "Now  it's developing  independently, in accord  with the laws  of  the
time; we've turned  it," I  said  and  malevolently added: "Now you can take
revenge on Etienne."
     The siren was still screaming. Nearby, lorries were clattering down the
street. I looked around.
     Martin wasn't  there.  "Don!"  I  cried, "Martin!" Nobody responded. We
bumped  into the gate of a churchyard, it was  open.  In there  it was dark,
beyond  the range of the light  from the fire. "Here!" "Irene"  whispered to
me,  taking me by the hand. I followed.  Then the darkness suddenly began to
melt  away,  flowing down  a stairway that had opened  up  in  front of  us.
Somebody was sitting on the upper step.








     I took a closer look and saw that it was Zernov.
     "Boris Arkadievich, is that you?"
     He turned around.
     "Anokhin? Where'd you come from?"
     I recalled Martin's Yankee Doodle song. Yes, but where was Martin?
     "He isn't here," Zernov said. "I'm alone."
     "Where are we?"
     He laughed.
     "You don't recognize the interior? Hotel Homond, second floor. I landed
here when we were thrown out of the car. What happened afterwards?"
     "Somebody threw a bomb under the wheels."
     "That's luck,"  Zernov said, "well, I  was  kind  of doubtful about the
strength of the Gestapo anyway.  But I  wouldn't want to test fate any more.
I've been sitting here from that minute  and I'm afraid to  move. After all,
this is an island of safety. Familiar surroundings, not spectres. So  take a
seat and let's hear what it's all about." He moved making room for me too.
     However, my story  did not make a great  impression on  Zernov, despite
the  gamut  of  unexpected  events that ran through it.  He listened without
uttering a word or asking any questions. I asked:
     "Have you seen Fellini's picture 'Juliet and the Ghosts'?"
     Zernov  wasn't  even surprised  by the  question,  though  it  promised
agreement  or  perhaps argument. Zernov did  not  speak up and waited for my
continuation. I  continued: "My idea is that they and Fellini take a similar
view of the  world. A surrealistic  nightmare. Everything is turned inwards,
all reality  is  only  the  projection  of somebody's  thoughts,  somebody's
memory. If you had  only seen that casino in St. Disier. The whole thing was
smeared  out,  broken into fragments, deformed. The elements  were there but
the  proportions  were distorted.  You  recall in  Fellini's world  how  the
disconnected  world of the subconscious mixes in with the world of  reality.
I'm after the logic of the matter but I'm unable to grasp it."
     "Nonsense,"  Zernov  interrupted. "You  are  simply not in the habit of
analysing and  have  not been able  to connect the pieces of  what  you have
witnessed. Fellini is far removed from all this. What has the cinema and art
generally got  to do with this? They  model memory for motives that are  not
aesthetic. Most likely God himself could not create a more exact model."
     "Of what?" I was cautious.
     "The psychic domains of certain of the visitors of the Homond Hotel."
     "What visitors? There were a hundred people there.  And we  were tossed
into the manure heap  of  a Gestapo man and this doorman. Why these two? Two
standards  of baseness  or simply two random droplets  of man's  memory? And
what precisely is it  that  is modelled? Ecstasy over  the past or  pangs of
conscience? Then how does Irene's dream fit in here? And why were we allowed
to  dip  into  someone  else's  recollections  yet prevented  from  touching
another's  dream? And why was  Irene linked up with her mother,  and why was
the connection only on one side? The modelling is done of  life suggested by
someone's memory, and we are permitted to alter that life.  But what kind of
a model is  it that does not replicate  the  original? Irene's mother  stays
alive, Lange is shot down by a burst of gunfire, and  Etienne will  probably
be finished off by his own men. Why? In the name of supreme justice attained
with our aid? I  hardly  think so;  that  would  no longer  be a  model  but
creativity. Then what is real in this model and what is simply make believe?
Whence flows the  Moskva River  and where  does it  break  off?  Perhaps  it
doesn't flow  at all. Is the entire parapet made of granite or is the inside
compressed smoke like in Sand City? Maybe the only reality in this  model is
myself,  standing  somewhere,   whereas  all  the  rest  is  a  mirage,  the
projections of dreams and of memory. But of  whose? What connection is there
between it and the  memory of Lange?  Why connect the unconnectable? Why, in
order to make  contact with us, it  is necessary to paste  together the past
and the present-what is  more, an alien past-and then alter it? Millions  of
'whys' and 'wherefores' and not one iota of logic."
     I  said all that without stopping. A  rose-coloured  fog was  billowing
above us, condensing and turning crimson underneath, near the staircase. One
could  not distinguish things at a meter and a half distance. I  counted six
steps, the seventh was enveloped in red smoke.
     "Still billowing," said  Zernov, catching my glance. "Let's  sit  quiet
until it strikes. There are some answers to our queries. You'll  answer them
yourself after some thought. First of all, what  is  modelled? Not  only the
memory. The  psychic make-up of the  individual  as  well. Thoughts, wishes,
recollections,  dreams.  Thoughts, as  you  know,  are not  always  logical,
associations are not always comprehensible, and recollections do not  always
follow events chronologically. Do not be surprised at the fragmentary nature
or  chaotic  arrangement of what has been seen,  this  is not  a film. Life,
recreated by  memory cannot be otherwise. Try to recall some eventful day of
the past.  Keep the events properly  sequenced,  from  morning till evening.
You'll never do it. No matter how hard  you try, you will lack coherency and
sequence. Something will be forgotten, something left out, something will be
recalled more vividly, something hazily, some  act  will slip by  nebulously
and indistinct, and you  will make  yourself miserable striving to  catch at
the recollection that is just  beyond your grasp. But still this is life. It
may be hazy and alogical, but it  is real and not concocted. Then  of course
there is the completely false."
     I couldn't get it.
     "False, why false?"
     "Imagined," he explained. "Life created solely by  the  force of  whim,
fancy or  simply supposition.  Say,  recalling something read  or seen at  a
movie, and you imagine  yourself the  hero, offering this  life concocted by
someone as  the real actuality, or  something  you yourself  create, invent,
make up. It's lucky you and I haven't  as yet come across any  such life, if
you can call it such. So far..." he repeated deep in thought. "The encounter
might still take place. Not excluded at all. Look how it's billowing...."
     The red fluid was still flowing round the staircase. I sighed.
     "Taking their  time about  today, it seems. And silent  as  hell, awful
silence, no squeaks, not a rustle."
     Zernov did not reply. A few seconds passed before he said, in a worried
tone, "The curious  thing is that every time  we are given full  freedom  of
action, they do not interfere or control us. And  they give us to understand
as much."
     "Martin and I  never realized  that," I said. "I still don't understand
why we were allowed to alter the model?"
     "Well,  you have the  stimulus of experimentation, don't you?  They are
studying, trying and combining things. Say, an exposure of somebody's memory
is obtained, a picture of the past. But this is not a film,  only the course
of a life. The past becomes,  as it were, the present and ready to form  the
future. Now,  do  we  have  a new factor  in  the  present  The future  will
unavoidably change. We are the new factor, the basis of the experiment. With
our help, they get two exposures  of the same picture  and can compare them.
You think they understand everything we do? Most likely not. That's why they
try one experiment after the other."
     "Yea, and meanwhile our hair stands on end," I said.
     It seemed to be getting lighter. Zernov noticed it too.
     "How many steps do you see?" he asked.
     "Ten," I counted.
     "There were six before, I counted them. The rest was a blur of red. I'm
fed up with this. 'isle of safety'. My back's aching. Let's risk it, what do
you say? Over to my room. We'll at least get some rest, like human beings."
     "Mine's a floor above yours."
     "Mine's  right here," Zernov pointed to the nearest door that was still
enveloped in red smoke. "Let's try."
     We dived into the flowing cloud of red, cautiously approached the door.
Zernov opened it and we went in.








     But there was no room at all. No ceiling, no walls,  no floor. Instead,
a broad roadway opened up before us, grey from the dust. All about was grey,
the  bushes  along  the  road, the  woods  beyond, all cockeyed, grotesquely
distorted  like the drawings of Gustav Dore, above  this dirty ragged clouds
crawled.
     "We risked it," said Zernov turning round. "Where has it gotten us?"
     On the right the road went down towards a river hid by a small hill, to
the  left it turned round  an enormous  oak  tree,  also grey, as if freshly
powdered with lead dust. From that direction came the sounds of a shepherd's
or,  more  likely,  child's  pipe because  the  melody  was very  primitive,
monotonous with the same importunate sad refrain.
     We  went  over to the  other  side of  the highway and  beheld the most
unlikely procession imaginable.  A few dozen  kids,  little kids, dressed in
shirts reaching to their knees and in pants, in tiny fur-trimmed jackets and
in hoods and tassels. Heading the procession  was  a ragged man in the  very
same  absurd jacket and short pants.  He had on long  woollen  stockings and
heavy shoes with tin buckles. He was the one who was piping the song that so
hypnotized the children. Hypnotized is the word because the kids moved as if
in  a  trance, speechless, never  turning  their heads to right or left. The
leader kept  on  playing  and kept  on  plunking  his heavy  feet  down in a
soldier's march, throwing up clouds of grey dust.
     "Hey," I yelled, when the curious procession had come up to us.
     "Leave'm alone," Zernov said. "That's a fairy tale "
     "A fairy tale?"
     "You know, the Pied Piper of Hamelin."
     Off in the  distance, in an  opening in the  curved woods, rose  Gothic
spires of a medieval  town. The children kept  following the  Pied Piper who
had hypnotized them.
     I had  wanted to grab  the last  one, barefoot in  ragged  pants, but I
stumbled over  something and spread out there  on  the road. Nobody  even so
much as turned his head.
     "Strange dust," I said knocking it out of my clothing,  "Doesn't  leave
any traces."
     "Maybe there isn't any  dust  at all. And no road either,"  said Zernov
with a smirk, and added, "False life, remember?"
     The  solution to the  riddle that had  plagued  me  for so long at last
percolated through.
     "You know why it's so grey all about?  It's from the line illustrations
to the fairy tale  done in pencil or pen. Lines and blur, no colours at all.
An illustration from a children's book."
     "We even know from which  one. Remember the little girl and the cure at
the table d'hote?"
     I did not answer, something changed instantaneously. The piping ceased.
A distant clack of hooves on the  road took its place. The familiar red  fog
enveloped  the bushes. Incidentally, it vanished  almost immediately and the
bushes stretched out along  the roadway all green. The woods disappeared and
the road broke off into a steep rocky decline, beyond which vineyards sloped
away. Lower still, just like in the Crimea, was a blue sea. Everything about
took on its natural colours:  the blue of the  sky showing through breaks in
the clouds, the red  spots of  clayey  soil  between rocks and the yellow of
sun-burnt grass. Even the dust on the road was, you might say, suntan.
     "There's  somebody coming on  horseback," said Zernov, "the  show isn't
over yet."
     Three horsemen emerged from a turn in the road. They were coming single
file,  behind them  were two horses both with saddles. The cavalcade came to
halt near where  we stood. All three of them were in different cuirasses and
identical  long black  coats with copper buttons.  Their jack boots,  turned
reddish from long wear, were covered with grey mud.
     "Who are these?" asked the senior horseman in  broken French. Away from
his  black  moustache  stretched  a  week's   growth   of  stubble.  In  his
museum-piece cuirass and sheathless sword stuck into his belt, he  seemed to
have stepped right out of an old novel.
     "What century is it?" I asked myself mentally. "The thirty-years war or
later? The soldiers of Wallenstein or Karl the Twelfth? Or the Swiss Reiters
in France? And in what France? Before Richelieu or after?"
     "Papists?" asked the horseman.
     Zernov laughed. This masquerade was getting to be funny indeed.
     "We  have no  faith,"  he replied  in  good  French,  "we're  not  even
Christians. We're atheists."
     "What's  that  he says, Captain?"  asked the junior  horseman. He spoke
German.
     "I do not know myself," he  said  switching  to  German. "Strange dress
too, like comedians at the fair."
     "Perhaps this is a mistake, Captain. They may not be the ones."
     "And  where will we look for those? Let Bonnville  himself Investigate.
Come along," he added in French.
     "I can't," said Zernov.
     "What?"
     "I don't know how to ride a horse."
     The  horseman laughed  and  said  something in  German.  Now all  three
laughed. "So he can't ride horseback! A doctor, no less."
     "Put  him in the middle. You two on the sides, one foot apiece. And see
that he doesn't fall off. And you?" the black moustache turned to me.
     "I don't intend to go anyway," I said.
     "Yuri, don't argue!" Zernov yelled in Russian- he was already seated on
the horse  holding onto the pommel of the  saddle. "Agree to everything  and
hold off as long as possible."
     "What's  the language  he speaks?" asked the  black-moustache frowning.
"Gipsy?"
     "Latin," I growled. "Dominus vobiscum. Let's get going."
     And I jumped into the saddle. It was not English, not modern, but of an
old unfamiliar shape with copper badges at the corners. That did not disturb
me, I had learned to ride horseback at the institute riding club that taught
most  of  the  elements of  the modern  pentathlon. Back in  the old days  a
certain brave man volunteered to deliver  an urgent message. He overcame all
obstacles in  his  way: he jumped, ran, swam a rushing river, used firearms,
and his sword. At the club we weren't taught  that much, but we learned some
of  the elements. One thing, I  wasn't very  good  at clearing  obstacles on
horseback. "If ever a fence or ditch turns up along the way, I'll never make
it," I thought to myself apprehensively. But there was no time to think. The
black  moustache lashed my  horse  and we took off, catching  up with Zernov
with  his side bodyguards. His  face was whiter than paper, quite naturally,
since  this was his first ride  in a saddle  and what is more, in  a furious
race!
     We pounded  along  without a word spoken,  the  black moustache  always
close by. I heard the thud of the hooves of my horse, the heavy panting, the
warmth  of  its neck,  the tense  resistance of the stirrups-no, this was no
illusion, no deception, this was real  life, a different alien life in other
space and  time, life that had sucked us under like a swamp its victims. The
closeness of the sea, the warm humidity of the air, the twisting rocky road,
vineyards  on the slopes,  unfamiliar trees with large broad leaves  shining
brightly in the sunlight, donkeys slowly dragging squeaky two-wheeled carts,
one-storey stone houses in the villages, mica windows and garlands of drying
red pepper, crude  sculptures of madonnas  near wells,  men with  bronze-tan
torsos  in  ragged  trousers  reaching  to their  knees,  women in  homespun
dresses, and completely naked children-this was a picture of the  south, the
south of France, and of no modern France either.
     We galloped for about an hour. Luckily there  were no major  obstacles,
except huge boulders  along the roadside, the  remnants of landships cleared
away long ago. A white stone wall half  as high again as a man brought us to
a halt. The wall surrounded a woods or park several  kilometres on  one side
because the end was nowhere in sight. Here, where the wall turned northwards
from  the sea, was  a man waiting. He  was  dressed  in  the same fancy-ball
costume  of green velvet and in  well-worn  reddish  boots like those  of my
companions and in a hat  without feathers but  with a  large brightly shined
copper buckle. His  right hand was  in a sling made of rags, perhaps from an
old shirt,  one eye  was  covered  with a black patch.  There  was something
familiar in the  face, though it was not the face that interested me but the
sword at his side. Out of what century  had this d'Artagnan appeared, though
this one resembled  more  a  common  scarecrow  than my  favourite  hero  of
childhood.
     The horsemen dismounted and pulled down Zernov. He could not even stand
and slumped to  the grass by  the  roadway. I  wanted to  help him,  but the
one-eyed man was already at his side.
     "Get up," he said to Zernov. "Can you stand?"
     "I can't", Zernov groaned.
     "What shall I do with  you?" asked  the  one-eyed man worried, and then
turned to me. "I've seen you some place before."
     I  recognized him at once. This was  Mongeus-seau, the interlocutor  of
the  Italian  movie  man  at  the  restaurant,  Mongeusseau,  rapierist  and
swordsman, Olympic champion and the first sword of France.
     "Where did you pick them up?" he asked the black moustache.
     "On the road. Aren't they the ones?"
     "Don't you  see?  What am I going to do  with them?" he repeated  at  a
loss. "I'm no longer Bonnville with them."
     A  red cloud boiled  up on the road. Out of the foam came a head,  then
black silk pajamas, I recognized the producer Carresi.
     "You are Bonnville  and not Mongeusseau,"  he said. The corners  of his
lips and his sunken cheeks trembled terribly as he spoke.  "You are somebody
from another age. Clear?"
     "I have my memory," objected the one-eyed man.
     "Then stamp it out. Switch out. Forget everything outside the film."
     "Do these  people  have any relation  to  the film?" and  the  one-eyed
glanced in my direction. "Have you warned them?"
     "No, of course not. That is the act of a different will. I am powerless
to extract them. But you, Bonnville, can."
     "How?"
     "Like a Balzac  hero freely creating  the plot. My thoughts only direct
you. You are the master of  the plot. Bonnville is a mortal enemy of Savari.
That is  crucial  to  you at the  present.  But remember:  without the right
hand!"
     "As a lefty I won't even be allowed to contest?"
     "As the left-hander Mongeusseau, not even today. As  a lefty, Bonnville
living in another age will fight with his left hand."
     "Like a schoolboy."
     "Like a tiger."
     The cloud again boiled  up consuming the film producer and then  melted
away. Bonnville turned to the dismounted horsemen.
     "Throw him  over the wall."  He nodded in the direction of Zernov lying
on the ground. "Let Savari nurse him himself."
     "Wait a minute!" I cried.
     But the point of Bonnville's sword was at my chest.
     "Worry about yourself," he said imperiously.
     Zernov  was already on the other side  of the wall, not even having had
time to cry out.
     "Murderer," I exclaimed.
     "Nothing's going to happen to him," Bonnville grinned. "The grass is up
to  your  waistline over  there.  He'll rest for  a while  and then  get up.
Meanwhile let's not be wasting  any time. Defend  yourself!" He  raised  his
sword.
     "Against you? That's ridiculous."
     "Why?"
     "Because you are Mongeusseau, Champion of France."
     "You are mistaken, I am Bonnville."
     "Don't try to fool me, I heard your conversation with the producer."
     "With whom?" he asked, failing to grasp what I had said.
     I  looked  him straight  in the eye.  He  was not playing any  role, he
indeed had failed to understand.
     "You must have been seeing things."
     It was useless to argue: here, before  me, was a switch-over man devoid
of his own memory. The film producer had done the thinking for him.
     "Defend yourself," he repeated severely.
     I purposely turned my back to him.
     "What for? I don't intend to in the least."
     The point of the sword bit  into my  back,  not deep, just through  the
jacket and enough for me to feel it. The most important thing was that I did
not doubt for  a moment that the sword would  have pierced me  through if he
had struck with more force.  I don't know how someone else would have  acted
in  my place, but suicide  does not have any attractions  for  me.  To fight
Mongeusseau would have been tantamount to committing suicide, but it was not
Mongeusseau that had bared his sword, but lefty  Bonnville. How long would I
stand  up  against  him? One minute, two minutes? Perhaps  a bit longer, who
knows.
     "Are you going to defend yourself?" he repeated once again.
     "I am unarmed."
     "Captain, your sword, please!" he cried.
     The black moustache, standing at some  distance,  threw me his sword. I
caught it by the handle.
     "Well done," Bonnville remarked.
     The sword was light  and sharp as  a  needle. It  did  not have the tip
covering the  point of the weapon in  sporting contests that I was used  to.
But the wrist  was protected by the familiar  spherical guard. The  grip was
likewise convenient. I cut the air with it and heard the swish that recalled
the days I fought for my team.
     "L'attack de droit," said Bonnville.
     I translated to myself "attack  from the  right". Bonnville was warning
me  condescendingly that he  was not afraid to open up his  plans to me.  At
that same instant he struck.
     I parried the blow.
     "Parre," he said. In  fencing lingo,  that means  to congratulate on  a
successful defence.
     I  retreated a little,  protecting myself with  the  sword,  which  was
somewhat longer than Bonn-ville's, thus giving me an advantage in defence. I
tried to recall the  words of my fencing instructor  in the old days: "Don't
let  yourself be fooled; he will retreat and your sword will cut the air. Do
not attack too  soon." I  made believe I was reverting  to the  defence.  He
jumped softly, cat-like, and dealt a blow from the left this time.
     Again I parried it.
     "Clever,"  Bonnville remarked.  "You  have intuition. Your luck that  I
attack with my left. You would be finished if it were with the right."
     His  blade, went for me like  a slender darting tentacle, quivering, as
if in search. He was after an opening in my  defence,  even the tiniest. Our
blades were holding a silent conversation. Mine said: "You won't get me, I'm
longer than you. Just turn aside and I'll get your shoulder." His said: "You
won't  get away.  See how I'm closing the distance? I'll get  you in the arm
now." Mine replied: "You won't have time. I'm above, and I'm longer than you
are." But Bonnville got around the length of my sword, he took  it aside and
then dealt a lighting blow.  However, the  blade  only pierced my jacket and
skimmed the skin of my body. Bonnville frowned.
     "Let's take off our coats," and he stepped back.
     I remained where  I stood. Without my jacket, in  my shirt, and  I felt
freer. And perhaps more defenceless. In our sport contests we usually put on
special  jackets that were  sewn with  fine  metal  threads. When the  sword
contacted the metal threads, the blow was recorded electrically. Here a blow
was a real one. The blade dipped into living tissue  and  cut blood vessels.
It could wound deeply, even kill. True, we were  in the same situation,  but
our skills differed. The blades  of our swords  struck in the same way,  our
shirts both freely opened up our bodies to  the opponent. But my tight short
sports  shirt  couldn't  match his  white  silken  shirt, like the one  Paul
Scofield played Hamlet in.
     We  crossed  swords.  I  recalled yet  another one of  my  instructor's
warning:  do not  attack too  soon, not until your opponent has  just for an
instant lost his feeling of distance. Wait until he  opens up. But Bonnville
did not open up.  His sword  buzzed around  my  chest like a wasp, ready  to
sting. But I retreated and parried blow after blow. What luck that he fought
with his left hand, I anticipated all his movements.
     Bonnville was obviously reading my thoughts.
     "With my left all I can do is stitch boots," he  said. "Would  you like
to see my right?"
     He took his arm out of the sling and tossed the sword over to his other
hand. Its blade flashed, knocked mine aside and hit me in the chest.
     "That's  the way  it's  done,"  he boasted, but  did not  have  time to
continue.
     Somebody, unseen, reminded him:
     "Use your left, Bonnville, your left! Take away the right!"
     Bonnville  obediently  switched  hands. The  red  spot on  my chest was
spreading.
     "Bandage it," said Bonnville.
     I was stripped of my  shirt and my shoulder was bandaged. It was not  a
deep  wound but  a  lot of blood was flowing. I flexed and extended my right
arm: there was no pain. I could still play for time.
     "Where did you study?" asked Bonnville. "In Italy?"
     "Why? What makes you  think  so?" "Your  defence  is very much like the
Italian way. But that will not help you."
     I  laughed and almost  let him  pass, for he was waiting for me  on the
right.  I  hardly  had  time  to back down,  his sword  only  slid along  my
shoulder. I parried it upwards and, in my turn, dealt
     a blow.
     "Well done," he said.
     "There's blood on your hand."
     "Nothing to worry about."
     His sword again whirled  about me. I parried, retreated, and my fingers
gripping the handle felt like ice.  I repeated  to myself, "Don't  fall, the
main thing is not to fall, don't fall!"
     "Don't drag it  out, Bonnville,"  said the  invisible voice, "there are
not going to be any retakes."
     "There  won't be anything,"  Bonnville replied, retreating  a  bit  and
giving me a breathing spell. "I can't get him with my left."
     "Then  he'll  get you. I'll change  the  plot. But you are a  superman,
Bonnville. That's the way I have devised you. Act! Courage, man!"
     Bonnville again stepped towards me.
     "So there was a conversation," I said with a snigger.
     "What conversation?"
     This was again a robot that forgot everything with the exception of his
ultra-task. Suddenly I felt a wall at my back. There was no room for further
retreat. "The end," I thought to myself helplessly.
     His sword again caught mine, flashed back  and then ran into my neck. I
did not feel  any  pain,  but something gurgled in my  throat. My knees gave
way, I fell on my sword, but it slipped  from my hands. The last I heard was
an exclamation as if from another world:
     "That's it."












     What followed  I saw as fragments,  a disconnected sequence of nebulous
white patterns. The white spot  of the ceiling  above me,  white curtains at
the  windows that did not darken  the  room, and white sheets at my chin. In
this whiteness I  suddenly recognized some sort of nickel-plated cylindrical
surfaces, long tubes that coiled like snakes, and some faces bent over me.
     "He's conscious," I heard.
     "I see. Anesthesia."
     "Everything's ready, Professor."
     All this conversation was in French, fast French  that penetrated to my
consciousness  or  skimmed  across  a  chaos  of obscure  coded terms.  Then
everything  was blanked  out-light, thoughts, everything-then  again a fresh
awakening in white.  Again unfamiliar faces bent over me,  polished surfaces
of scissors or a spoon, a wrist-watch  or a needle. At times the nickel gave
way to the  transparent  yellow  of rubber gloves or  the rosy sterility  of
hands with close-cut nails. All of this lasted only a short time, then again
dropped  into  darkness where there  was no  space, no time, only  the black
vacuum of sleep.
     Then the  pictures gradually straightened out as if someone at controls
were  bringing them  into focus.  The peaked strict face of the professor in
white cap faded into a still more drawn face of the nurse in white headgear.
I  was  fed  broth and juices, my  throat was swathed and I was told not  to
talk.
     Somehow, however, I got out the words:
     "Where am I?"
     Rough hands of the nurse clamped down on my lips.
     "Silence. You  are  in  the clinic  of Professor Peletier. Take care of
your throat. Do not talk."
     Once, a very familiar  face bent down towards me with tinted glasses in
gold frames on.
     "You?" I exclaimed and did not  recognize  my own voice, neither hoarse
nor the scream of a bird.
     "Tss.. .." And she too covered my mouth, but so carefully, so  lightly.
"Everything's  all right, my love. You  are getting well but  you  must  not
speak yet.  Be silent  and wait. I will  return soon, very  soon.  Now go to
sleep."
     I slept, and woke up again, and I felt my throat become freer,  I could
taste the broth they gave me; then again the jab of a needle, again the dark
emptiness until finally I woke up for  good. I could speak, yell, sing-and I
knew it, there wasn't even any bandage.
     "What is  your name?" I asked my usually stern-faced guest in the white
cap.
     "Sister Therese."
     "Are you a nun?"
     "We are all nuns in this clinic."
     She  did not  stop me from  yelling  "hurrah", and I asked her  without
hidden guile, "So the Professor is catholic, isn't he?"
     "The Professor will burn in hell," she replied without a smile, "but he
knows that we are the most skilled nurses. That is our vow."
     "I'll probably burn in hell too," I thought and so changed the subject.
     "How long have I been in the clinic?"
     "This is the second week after the operation."
     "So he's an atheist?" I sniggered.
     She sighed, "These are all the affairs of God."
     "And the rose clouds too?"
     "In the Encyclical  of His  Holiness they are proclaimed to be made  by
human hands. The  creation of  our brethren  of  the Universe created in the
image of God."
     I  saw that His Holiness had given way to the lesser evil, casting  his
lot with the anthropocentric hypothesis. That was the only  way out for  the
Christian world. But for  science? What hypothesis did the  Congress uphold?
And why is it that I still don't know anything about this matter?
     "Is  this  a hospital or a jail?" I raged. "And  why am I being starved
with sleep?"
     "Not starved but treated. This is sleep therapy."
     "Aren't there any newspapers around here? Why can't I have something to
read?"
     "Complete cut-off from the outside world is also part of the treatment.
When the course of treatment is over, you'll have all the papers you want."
     "And when will that be?"
     "As soon as you are well."
     "And when.. .."
     "Ask the Professor."
     In a way, this was funny, but I wasn't getting anywhere so I decided an
attack from the flank.
     "Well, I certainly am much better, don't you think so?"
     "Yes, definitely."
     "Then, why am I not allowed visitors? Or have I been forgotten?'
     You have to be a nun to stand up to a patient like that. Sister Therese
withstood it all,  except once. Something like a smile even  ran  across her
imperturbable lips.
     "Today is visitor's day. It begins in. .." and she looked at her watch,
whose reflections I had  seen so many times during  my  awakenings, "in  ten
minutes."
     I  got through those ten minutes as  submissive as a lamb.  I was  even
allowed to  sit  up in bed  and  talk without looking at the clock, my vocal
chords had healed completely. But Irene said:
     "I'll do the talking, you ask questions."
     But  I didn't want  to ask anything, I just wanted to  repeat "dearest,
dearest, dearest" .... It was funny how it all happened: no explanations, no
sighing, no hints, no play. The whole preparatory work was carried out by my
opponent Bonnville-Mongeusseau. I wonder whether Irene knew about that. Yes,
it turned  out, she did. She got  it all from Zernov. She herself during all
this time  was in  a  kind  of trance,  a dream yet not  a dream, a complete
blot-out  of all memory. She  woke up, it  was  morning, drowsiness. She was
drowsy, didn't want to get up.
     "And you  meanwhile were  bleeding  to  death in Zernov's  room  at the
hotel. Luckily he got here in time, you were still breathing."
     "Where did he come from?"
     "From  below,  from the  hall.  He  himself  had  been  knocked  almost
unconscious,  his whole body was beaten up. Miracles! Almost as  if  you had
come back from the crusades."
     "Must  have been  somewhat later.  The sixteenth  century,  I  believe.
Swords without sheaths, and slender blades fast as lightning!"
     "Why? Did you fight? You're some musketeer! You have to know how!"
     "We  were taught a  bit  in the  institute, movie  people  have to know
everything. That's when it came in handy."
     "Very helpful on the operating table."
     "But I was ambushed. Behind was a wall, a ditch on one side. And he was
good!"
     "Who was this?"
     "Mongeusseau. Try standing up to an Olympic champion. Remember the  guy
with the eye patch at the table d'hote?"
     Irene was not surprised.
     "He's here in the hotel right now  too. And he's together with Carresi.
Incidentally,  I  took him for a  movie actor,  for  some  reason. With  the
exception of us, these two are the only guests that  did not leave the hotel
after  that night.  Boy, that was some panic! And the doorman even committed
suicide, he hanged himself."
     "Which one?" I exclaimed.
     "That one, the baldheaded one."
     "Etienne?" I asked to make sure. "Why?"
     "Nobody knows. He didn't even leave a note. But I think Zernov has some
suspicions."
     "Marvellous," I exclaimed, "A dog's death for a dog."
     "You have suspicions too?"
     "I don't suppose anything, I know!"
     "What?"
     "It'd take a long time to tell. Not now."
     "Why are you hiding things from me?"
     "Certain  things  need not  be revealed  now. You'll  learn about  them
later. Don't  be offended, it's for the best. Now  tell me what  happened to
Lange. Where is he?"
     "He's left. It seems he's left Paris for good. He got into some kind of
a  fix  too."  She  laughed.  "Martin  for  some  reason put  him  through a
meat-grinder,  you wouldn't recognize him now. At least not during the first
few days. There was talk it'd develop into a diplomatic scandal, but nothing
happened. The  West Germans were quiet as mice. Martin's an American and the
right hand  of  Thompson. Local Ribbentropites find that too hard  a nut  to
crack. Then  Lange himself all of a  sudden relinquished all claims. He said
you couldn't deal with a madman. Newsmen attacked Martin for  an explanation
and he served up  whiskey  and reported that Lange wanted to get the Russian
girl  away from him. He meant  me. A  lot  of fun and laughter  but  there's
something  mysterious  behind  it all. Martin  has  now  left  together with
Thompson. Don't look so surprised. That's  a  long story  to tell too.  I've
collected all the paper clippings, you  can  read  them. There's also a note
for you from Martin, but not a word about the fight. But I think that Zernov
knows something on  that  score. Yes, tomorrow he's  speaking at the plenary
session. All the reporters are waiting like  sharks, and he keeps putting it
off. All because  of you, incidentally. He  wants  to have a talk  with  you
first. Right now. Surprised again? Really, I mean it, right now."
     Zernov appeared as  fast as they do in movies. He wasn't  alone. He was
accompanied  by Carresi and Mongeusseau. He couldn't have produced a greater
effect.  I opened  my mouth  as  I  recognized Mongeusseau and did  not even
respond to their greetings.
     "He recognizes you," said Zernov to his companions in English. "And you
wouldn't believe it."
     Then I went  off the handle; luckily it was easier to go off the handle
in any other language except Russian.
     "I have not gone mad nor have I lost any of my memory. It would be hard
to forget the sword that cut my throat."
     "And you remember the sword?" asked Carresi, for some reason overjoyed.
     "It's the last thing I'll forget."
     "And your own?" Carresi even rose to his feet, he was so excited. "From
Milan, a steel snake at the guard coiled round the handle, remember?"
     "Let  him  remember," I said maliciously,  nodding in the  direction of
Mongeusseau.
     The latter did not seem offended, nor was he embarrassed in the least.
     "I've  had   it  since   1960.  The  prize  of  Toulouse,"  he  replied
phlegmatically.
     "That's where I remember it from. Both the blade and the snake," put in
Carresi again.
     But Mongeusseau was not listening.
     "How  long did you last?" he asked, looking at me with interest for the
first time. "One minute, two minutes?"
     "More," I said. "You were fighting with your left hand."
     "Makes no difference. My left is much weaker, hasn't the lightness that
is  needed. But in  training...."  For some reason,  he  did  not finish the
sentence  and  changed his  tone  of  voice: "I  know  your  swordsmen, I've
encountered them in contests,  but I don't remember you.  You  weren't taken
off the team, were you?"
     "I gave up fencing," I said; I didn't want to let him know too much. "I
gave it up a long time ago."
     "Too bad," he said slowly and looked at Carresi.
     I never found out  what he was sorry about: about my losing interest in
swordplay or that his fight with  me took him more than two precious minutes
of the champion's time. Carresi noticed my perplexed look and laughed:
     "Gaston wasn't present at the fight."
     "What do  you  mean, wasn't there?" I asked  in astonishment.  "Who was
then?"
     I  cautiously  ran my fingers over the slanting healed  slit across  my
throat.
     "Blame me," said Carresi in confusion. "I thought the whole thing up at
home lying on my couch. Gaston, who was synthesized and given an identically
synthesized  sword,  is the  fruit  of my imagination. How  it was  done,  I
certainly  do not understand. But the real honest to  God Gas-ton never even
touched you. So don't be angry."
     "Honestly, I  don't  even  remember  you  at  the table  dhoti,"  added
Mongeusseau.
     "False life," Zernov  reminded me of our talk on the stairs. "I allowed
for  modelling  of  suppositions  or  imagined situations," he explained  to
Carresi.
     "And  I didn't  allow for anything," Carresi objected  impatiently.  "I
didn't  want to have anything to do with that world-wide scandal. At first I
simply refused to  believe  it, like  those flying saucers,  then I saw your
film and was petrified:  that was it! For a whole week I could not  think of
one single thing except that. Then I got used to the idea, like you get used
to something unusual and quite  far-fetched but repeated a sufficient number
of  times. Professional interests took me away from  common sense and a good
heart: even on the eve of the Congress I  could  think of  nothing except my
new picture. I wanted to revive an historical film, not Hollywood  syrup and
not a museum  piece,  but something re-evaluated  by  the  eyes and minds of
people of  today. I chose the age, the heroes and, as you people put it, the
socio-historical  background.  Then at  the restaurant  I found a 'star' and
convinced him. There  was only one thing he didn't  like: fighting  with his
left  hand. But,  you see,  that was my lookout, strange as  it  may seem. I
remember  him  at fencing  contests. The sword in his right hand-it would be
too  professional,  he wouldn't be able to enter  the image. Now in the left
hand, he was a God!  There  were threats and mistakes and anger with himself
and a miracle of naturalness. I convinced him. We parted. Then I lay down in
my hotel room, thinking. A red light bothered me. The hell with it, I closed
my  eyes. And I imagined the whole  scene, the road high above the  sea, the
rocks,  the  vineyards, the  white wall  of  the Count's park. And then this
craziness: the hirelings of Gaston-he's Bonnville in the play-stop some bums
on the road.  Well, not bums,  tourists, if you like, outsiders, in a  word.
The age is changed and the  plot too. I want to  throw them out but I can't,
they're just stuck there. So then I  switch round and include them too. This
produces a new plot,  very original: say, the bums are wandering actors. Now
Gaston,  quite naturally, at home is thinking about the film, not  about the
plot but about  himself, his dilemma of fighting either with his left or his
right. Mentally,  I get into an argument  with him: I get  excited,  try  to
convince him, then demand subordination. Period!"
     "I saw  that,"  I recalled. "A pile of crimson foam near the road,  and
then you stepped out like a devil from a box."
     Carresi  closed his  eyes,  obviously trying to visualize  what  he had
heard and was again pleased.
     "Now  that's an idea! A marvellous angle for  the  plot. Let's  restore
everything that happened and exactly the way  it occurred. In  short, do you
want to play together with Gaston?"
     "Thanks a lot," I said hoarsely, "I don't want to die a second time."
     Mongeusseau smiled politely but with a certain amount of guile.
     "In your place, I would refuse too. But drop in to see me on Rivoli for
a friendly  visit. We'll cross  swords. Don't be  afraid,  they're  only for
training. Everything according  to regulations, outfit and masks. I  want to
try you out a bit, and find out how you stood up so long. I'll work with  my
left on purpose."
     "Thanks," I repeated, but knew that I would never again see him.








     When the producer and the  swordsman had left, a  strange uncomfortable
silence  set  in. I contained  myself  with  difficulty exasperated by  this
unneeded visit. Zernov laughed, waiting to find out what I would say. Irene,
noticing at once the import of the pause, remained silent as well.
     "Angry?" asked Zernov.
     "Positively,"  I  said.  "You  think  it's  fun  being  polite to  that
murderer?"
     "Mongeusseau  is  not  to blame,  even indirectly,"  Zernov  continued.
"That's what I have just figured out."
     "Presumption of innocence," I taunted.
     He did not respond.
     "It's my  fault,  I got you two together on purpose, don't be angry.  I
wanted to correlate the model with the source. For  my paper I had to have a
perfect  check  on  what  was modelled,  whose  psyche.  And  what  is  more
important-the memory or imagination. Now I know. They have dipped into both.
The other  one simply  wanted  to go to sleep, probably going over Carresi's
proposition lazily: not too  much  work, it  would  seem, and the pay not so
bad. But  Carresi created, he was the  one who  contrived the conflicts, the
dramatic  situations, in  a word,  the illusion of real  life.  It  was  the
illusion that they modelled. And rather exactly, incidentally. Remember  the
landscape?  Vineyards  on  the  background  of the sea.  More exact  than  a
photograph."
     I involuntarily touched my throat.
     "And this? Another illusion?"
     "That's  an accident. While  experimenting  they probably  did not even
realize that it was dangerous."
     "I don't  get it,"  Irene  interrupted,  continuing her  own  thoughts,
"there  must be something else  to  all this, and not life.  Biologically it
can't  be  life, even  if  it  reproduces life.  Life  can't be made  out of
nothing."
     "Why out of nothing? They probably have some sort of building material,
a kind of primary matter of life."
     "The red fog?"
     "Perhaps. So  far  nobody  has  found any explanation, nobody has  even
advanced  a  hypothesis,"  Zernov  sighed. "Don't expect hypotheses tomorrow
from  me  either. I'm  simply  going to express  a  supposition  of what  is
modelled and why. As to how it is done-that's beyond me.. .."
     I laughed.
     "Somebody will get to an explanation. Live and see."
     "Where?"
     "Where do you think? At the Congress naturally."
     "You won't see anyone."
     Zernov smoothed his straight light  hair.  He  always did  that  before
saying something unpleasant.
     "It won't  work,"  I  said maliciously.  "You won't  hold me here.  I'm
well."
     "I know. The day  after  tomorrow  you will be discharged.  And  in the
evening you can pack your suitcases."
     He said it so firmly and decisively that I jumped up out of bed.
     "A recall?"
     "No."
     "So it's to Mirny again?"
     "And not to Mirny either."
     "Then where to?"
     Zernov was silent, smiling, he gave a quick sidelong glance at Irene.
     "Suppose I don't agree?" I said.
     "You'll agree. You'll be all too eager.  In  fact,  you'll grab at  the
chance."
     "Come on, Boris Arkadievich. Where to?"
     "Greenland."
     My  face obviously spelled  such  disappointment that Irene  burst  out
laughing.
     "He doesn't jump, Irene".
     "No, he doesn't."
     I lay back on purpose.
     "There's no dope to make me jump. But why to Greenland?"
     "There'll be dope enough," said Zernov and winked at Irene.
     Irene, imitating the TV news announcer, began:
     "Copenhagen. Our special  correspondent reports that pilot observers of
the  United  States  polar station  at Soenre Stremfiorde  (Greenland)  have
detected  a curious  artificial or  natural phenomenon  to  the north of the
seventy-second parallel  of latitude,  in the  area of Simpson's expedition.
..."
     I rose up on my pillows.
     "..  .over  an  extensive  ice-covered  plateau,   blue  kilometre-long
protuberances have  been  observed. Something in the nature of  a diminished
Aurora Borealis, only  along an enormous  ellipse in  a close  band of  blue
fire. The tongues of  flame  merge roughly at  an altitude of  one kilometre
forming  the  surface of an  immense octahedron. That's it,  isn't it, Boris
Arkadievich?"
     I fell back on the bed.
     "Now are you ready to jump, Anokhin?"
     "I seem to be ready."
     "Now listen. Reports of this 'aurora' have appeared in  all the papers.
The octahedron  shines for hundreds of kilometres.  It cannot be  approached
either on  foot  or on tractor:  our  familiar  invisible wall  repulses all
oncomers. Aircraft have been unable to come down from above, they are turned
aside. The suspicion is that  this  is  a powerful field of  force that  the
space beings have set up. Now do you jump?"
     "Definitely.  Boris  Arkadievich,  that   means  they  are  already  in
Greenland."
     "Have been for some time. But deep in  the interior of the plateau they
seem to have something new. Fire, yet instruments nearby do not register the
slightest increase in temperature. Neither is there any  rise in atmospheric
pressure or  in ionization. Radio communications are  not interrupted even a
few metres  away from  the  protuberances.  Geiger counters are suspiciously
silent. Strange camouflage, rather like a kid's  kaleidoscope.  The flashing
of broken glass and that's all. The photos we have don't seem to make sense.
A  clear sky on a sunny day  reflected  in enormous crystalline facets of  a
crystal. But the  'horsemen' go  through like birds into a cloud.  But  real
birds  bounce  back  like  tennis balls. Attempts  were  made  with pigeons,
complete failure."
     I was  bitterly jealous of  my colleagues for getting in to  shoot that
scene!
     Zernov was not so elated, he thought there might be great danger in the
whole  affair. He said: "You  know what the activities around this thing are
now called?  'Operation T' after  our friend Thompson. He himself says  that
this is  a  personal search for contact. He says that  before he took  over,
everything  had  been  tried,  and  in  vain:  light signals,  radio  waves,
mathematical  codes,  and all manner of figures traced in  the  sky  by  jet
planes.  The horsemen refuse to respond. But he says he'll  make contact. So
far  nobody knows  with  what  media,  and  he  isn't  communicative either.
However,  the core  of the expedition has  already been  formed and has been
sent to Upernivik. That's  where the  Greenland expedition  of  Koch-Wegener
started out from in 1913. They are supported by  a cargo-passenger aircraft,
a  helicopter  borrowed  from  the  Tutie base,  two  tracked  vehicles  and
aerosleighs. Not so badly equipped, as you can see."
     I still couldn't make out what sort of contact Thompson could expect to
make with the aid of helicopter and aerosleigh. Zernov smiled enigmatically.
     "The  news boys  don't  either.  But  Thompson is no  fool.  He  didn't
corroborate a single statement attributed to him by the press concerning the
aims of  the expedition or the means with  which  they hope  to attain them.
Queried by journalists, not a single firm  supplying him with equipment  and
gear has  responded. He has been asked whether he is taking along tanks with
gas of an  unknown composition.  Other questions: What  are  the instruments
recently loaded onto a vessel at Copenhagen  to be used for? Does  he intend
to  explode, drill  or break  into the force field of the extra-earth-lings?
His reply  is that the equipment  of his expedition  was checked by  customs
officials and that nothing  was found  to violate the  rules for bringing it
into  Greenland. He knows nothing, he insists, about any special instruments
that were said to have been loaded at Copenhagen. The aims of the expedition
are scientific-research and he's going to count his chicks when they hatch."
     "Where does he get the money?"
     "Don't know? There's no big money here, even the 'mad men' of  politics
aren't ready to place big sums at his disposal. He's not fighting communists
or  Negroes. Of  course, somebody is  financing the  thing, without a doubt.
Some newspaper syndicate  they say.  Like Stanley's  expedition to Africa. A
sensational piece is playing, why not risk it."
     I wanted to know whether his expedition was connected with some kind of
decision or recommendation of the Congress.
     "He's  broken with  the  Congress," Zernov explained.  "Even  before it
started he announced in the press that he does not consider himself bound by
its future  resolutions.  By the  way,  you don't even  know  what  happened
there."
     That  was so, I didn't know what had happened at the Congress. I didn't
even know that it had taken  place at the very time that I was being removed
from the operating table to my post-operative ward.
     After the Security Council of the United Nations refused to discuss the
phenomenon of the rose clouds prior to a  resolution of the Paris  Congress,
correctly taking the view that the first word should come from  science, the
atmosphere around the Congress became extremely heated.
     It opened up like a world football championship. Trumpets, flags of the
nations, greetings from all scientific associations of the world.  True, the
wiser ones  kept  quiet while the less  cautious participants  came out with
statements  that the mystery of  the rose  clouds would be clarified in  the
near future.  Of  course,  there  was no  discovery  of any kind,  with  the
possible   exception  of  Academician  Osovets'  report.  He  advanced   and
substantiated the thesis  that  the visitors  were peace-loving  beings from
space, and this set the  course for  other scientists. Pieces of wisdom were
bandied about.  Zernov  told  roe  some  of  them  with  hardly  containable
disappointment. Opinions collided and hypotheses  rose and fell. Some of the
conferees even took the 'clouds' to be varieties of flying saucers.
     "Yuri, if you only knew how many dopes there are in science, people who
have long  since  lost  the  right to  be called scientists!"  said  Zernov.
"Naturally,  there   were   some  well-thought-out  speeches,  and  original
hypotheses, some  bold conjectures.  But Thompson left after the very  first
meetings. 'A thousand shy oldsters won't cook  up anything worth while,'  he
said to waiting newspaper men."
     Out of the  entire Congress, he invited  to this expedition only Zernov
together with the crew of the 'Kharkovchanka' and Irene. "We began together,
we'll continue together," said Zernov.
     "I didn't begin," interrupted Irene.
     "But you continued."
     "Where?"
     "On that same night in the hotel Homond."
     "I don't get it."
     "Ask Anokhin. He'll tell you a thing or two."
     "About what?" Irene was concerned.
     "That you are  not you  but your model created by the  'clouds' on that
ill-fated night."
     "Quit joking, Boris Arkadievich."
     "I'm not joking. Simply Anokhin and Martin saw you in St. Disier."
     "Not her," I put in, "you've forgotten."
     "I haven't forgotten, but I figured it would be better not to tell."
     A nervous extended pause set in. Irene took off her  glasses, collapsed
the bows automatically and again opened them-the first sign of nerves.
     "Now I understand," she said accusingly to Zernov, "that you and Martin
were hiding something from me. What was it?"
     Zernov evaded the question this time as well.
     "Let Anokhin tell you. We believe that he is the  only one  who has the
right to tell you."
     I  replied to Zernov  with  a  glance the  force of  a sword stroke  by
Bonnville. Irene turned to him, then to me in a state of complete confusion.
     "Is that true, Yuri?"
     "Yes, it is," I sighed and said nothing.
     To  tell her what had happened in the officer's casino in  St. Disier I
had to be alone with her, not here.
     "Something unpleasant?"
     Zernov  smiled. The pause  continued. I was really pleased  to hear the
familiar creak of the door.
     "The most unpleasant thing is to begin right now," I said and nodded in
the  direction of  the  opening door,  through which my angel in white  with
hypodermic needle  in hand was coming. "This is part  of  the treatment that
even friends are not supposed to view."
     And  the curative  therapy of  Professor Peletier again pushed  me down
into the abyss of sleep.








     I woke up the next morning, promptly recalled everything and got mad as
hell: I still  had another day in  the  hospital. The appearance of my white
angel with a wheeled table containing my breakfast did not console me in the
least.
     "Turn on the radio."
     "We have no radio here."
     "Then get me a transistor set."
     "Out of the question."
     "Why?"
     "Everything is prohibited that can interfere with the normal well-being
of a convalescent patient."
     "I'm already well."
     "You will know about that only tomorrow morning."
     The white angel was fast turning into a demon.
     "But I've  got to  know what is taking place at the Congress. Zernov is
speaking. Don't you understand? Zernov!"
     "I do not know Monsieur Zernov."
     She handed me a folder in red morocco.
     "What's this?"
     "Newspaper  clippings   that  Mademoiselle  Irene  left  for  you.  The
Professor allowed them."
     That was bread for a person starving from lack of information. I opened
the folder, forgetting about breakfast and listened. Yes, I listened.
     It was the voice of the world coming through to  me, through nickel and
glass, through the  white brick of the  hospital walls,  through the murk of
bottomless sleep and the beatitude of getting well. It was the voice of  the
Congress with the opening speech of Academician  Osovets that set the  right
course for a  reasonable  and consistent stand  of  humanity relative to the
visitors from space.
     "What is already clear?"  said  the Academician.  "That we are  dealing
with an extraterrestrial civilization, one  from  another planet.  That  its
technical and scientific level  far surpasses our own. That neither they nor
we have been able to establish contact with one another. And  also  that its
attitude towards us is friendly and peaceful. During these three months  the
visitors  have collected  and  transported out into space the ice of all the
continents and we  have not been  able to  intervene. What does  this action
spell for humanity?  Nothing  but  good.  Climatologlsts will establish  the
precise consequences of what has been done, but  even now  we can speak of a
considerable  amelioration in the climate of the polar and adjacent moderate
latitudes, about the mastering of vast  earlier  inaccessible areas and of a
free settling of the population of the world.  What is  more, the extraction
of  the terrestrial  ice was  accomplished without  geological catastrophes,
Hoods  or  other  natural calamities. Not  a  single  expedition or ship  or
scientific research station operating in these areas of glaciation suffered.
More, the  guests presented humanity, as a by-product, with newly discovered
riches that were soon located. In the foothills of the Yablonevy Range, they
discovered vast  deposits of copper ore,  in Yakutia fresh diamond deposits.
In the Antarctic they discovered oil and in their own way drilled and put up
rigs of a very peculiar design quite unfamiliar to any of us." He  concluded
in a  burst of  applause with the following words.  "I can say to  you  that
right now in Moscow an agreement is being signed among  interested countries
on the establishment of an industrial and trade stock company, with the code
name SJEAP, which stands for Society for the Joint Exploitation of Antarctic
Petroleum."
     Academician  Osovets also summarized  the  events  connected  with  the
spacelings'  modelling of  phenomena  in terrestrial life in which they were
interested. The list was so long that the  speaker did  not read it. It  was
simply issued as a printed supplement to the report. I will cite  only  what
was commented on by the journalists at Paris.
     In  addition to Sand City/the "horsemen" modelled a  resort town in the
Italian Alps,  the  French  beaches in  the morning, when they resemble  the
mating grounds of seals, the square of St.  Mark  in Venice and a portion of
the London underground railway. Passenger transport  systems attracted their
attention in many countries.  They dived into trains,  ocean and air liners,
police helicopters and even balloons participating in some  kind of sporting
contest at Brussels.
     In France they penetrated to some  kind of racing event at the Parisian
cycle racetrack, in San Francisco, it was a boxing match of heavyweights for
champion of the Pacific Coast,  in Lisbon, at a football game for the Cup of
European Champions  (the  players  later complained that the red fog  around
them was so thick that they  could not see the opponent's goal). The fog was
the same  during  the  games  of the  first  round at  the interzonal  chess
tournament in Zurich, and for two hours at the Government Cabinet meeting in
the South  African Republic, and for forty minutes the animals in the London
Zoo dined. The newspaper gibed that both events occurred on the same day and
that  in both  cases  the  fog did  not disperse either  the  beasts  or the
racists.
     The  Academician's list included  a  detailed  enumeration  of all  the
factories  and  plants  modelled  by   the  cosmic  visitors  completely  or
partially:  sometimes  a department,  or a  conveyor line,  or simply  a few
machines and tools characteristic  of a given type of  production and chosen
with unerring precision. Parisian journalists commenting this choice came to
some curious conclusions. Some said that the "clouds" were interested mostly
in outmoded  types  of machines that had not changed fundamentally over  the
past  century,  and  therefore least  comprehensible  to them,  such as  the
filigree working of precious stones or the designations of kitchen utensils.
Then  a  diamond-cutting  shop  in Amsterdam was  modelled and  a  primitive
manufactory of toys in Nuremberg.
     Other observers, commenting on the list of  Osovets, noted the interest
displayed in  services for  the  consumer. Wrote  the  correspondent  of the
"Paris-Midi":  "Have  you  noticed the  quantity  of  modelled  barbershops,
restaurants, fashion  houses and television studios? Note the attention paid
to the choice of shops, stores, market places, fairs and even  show windows.
And note the  variation  of modes of modelling. At times a "cloud" will dive
onto a site  and leave immediately before there is time for a natural  panic
to develop.  At  other times  the  cloud  envelopes  the  objective  slowly,
imperceptibly penetrating to every nook and cranny, and people do not notice
anything until the  density  of the gaseous cloud turns into visibility. And
even  then  there is  something  that  prevents  them  from  altering  their
customary  behaviour,  something  that represses  the mind  and will  power.
Nobody experienced fear: barbers cut hair,  clients leaf through illustrated
journals, movie cameramen  make takes  or conduct  TV  shows, the goalkeeper
snatches a difficult ball, and a  waiter  politely hands you the bill in the
restaurant.  Everything round about has become  red like  the light of a red
lamp, but you  continue  your activities,  only  later  realizing  what  has
occurred after the ''horsemen'  have passed beyond the horizon carrying with
them your live imagination. Most of the time you don't even have a chance to
see it: the cosmic visitors demonstrated it to humans only during the  first
experiments in  fixation  of  terrestrial life.  afterwards  everything  was
confined to films of red gas of varying consistency and tonality."
     "Nobody  has suffered  during all of this, and nobody has even  had any
material losses  of any kind,"  thus the  Academician summarized.  "With the
exception of a stool  that vanished together  with a double at a meeting  of
polar men at Mirny, and the automobile of pilot Martin who rashly left it in
the modelled  city,  no one can name a  single thing destroyed or damaged by
our  cosmic  friends. There was  talk of  a cycle  that was left by a  Czech
cyclist and disappeared near Prague during a race, but it was later found in
a parking lot during a rest period. Then there was an alpenstock  taken away
from a Swiss  guide,  Fred  Schomer, by his double who suddenly appeared  in
front of him  on  an Alpine pathway. But  Fred Schomer wrote  to the editors
saying  that nothing of the kind  had  taken place, that  firstly, he was so
frightened he threw it  away,  and  secondly, the same stick was returned to
him by the rose cloud that dived to the front door  of his house. All of the
other  cases  reported  in  the  press turned  out  to be  simply  the  idle
imaginings of self-styled 'victims' or of the newspaper men  themselves. The
rose clouds returned  to space without having done any harm to humanity  and
without taking anything with them except terrestrial ice and the conjectured
recordings  of terrestrial life  coded  in some fashion  in  red  fog. This,
incidentally,  is a  hypothesis that  has  not been proven  in  any  way  by
anybody."
     Academician Osovets' speech  met  the approval of far and away the bulk
of the delegates. I did not read Thompson's speech, it had found no support,
and actually the debate turned into an exchange  of queries and replies, not
in  the  least  polemical and  not even  very bold or  confident. There were
apprehensions for example that the peaceful nature of the newcomers was only
a manoeuvre and that they would return with quite different intentions.
     "What kind?" the Academician would like to know.
     "Aggressive."
     "With the technological  facilities at their disposal what  purpose  is
there in camouflage?"
     "But suppose it's reconnaissence?"
     "The very first encounters have demonstrated to them  the difference in
our technical potentials."
     "But have we shown them our potential?" Thompson asked.
     "They've modelled it already."
     "But we didn't even attempt to direct it against their attack."
     "How can you call that an attack?"
     "However, can you risk asserting that it will not follow?"
     "In support of my assertions  I  cited numerous  proven facts, while in
support of your contentions I hear only hypotheses."
     After that  ignominious discussion-that is,  for the  opponents of  the
Soviet Academician-the "doubters", as they were dubbed, fought  back in  the
commissions,  especially in  the Commission for  Contact and Conjecture that
soon  became  famous  for  its  tempestuous  sessions.  Here,  all manner of
hypotheses  were   advanced   and  straightway  venomously  countered.   One
discussion merged into  another,  very often gradually straying  farther and
farther from the original  topic. This continued until the electric  gong of
the chairman sounded. The  journalists did not even  work up  their notes or
inject any hyperbolas, all that was needed was to cite verbatim.
     I took at random one of the clippings and read:
     "PROFESSOR O'MELLY (Northern Ireland):
     I  suggest  an  amendment to  the  formulation  of  Professor  MacEdou:
ammonium and fluorine.
     PROFESSOR  MACEDOU (USA). I agree.  That was  mentioned  at  the  press
conference.
     PROFESSOR  TAINE  (Great  Britain). As  I  remember  it,  at the  press
conference it was suggested  that the rose clouds were  visitors from a cool
planet.  For  fluorine beings,  a temperature of minus  one  hundred degrees
would be only a pleasant frost. I do not want to  put  it  strongly but  any
first-year college student would be able to  correct the colleague  who made
that statement. The problem of fluorine proteins....
     VOICE FROM THE BACK OF THE AUDITORIUM. There's no such problem.
     TAINE. No, there  isn't, but there easily could be. The commission here
is one of conjectures and not scientific facts,
     VOICE FROM PRESS CENTRE. Boy, this is boring.
     TAINE.  Why don't you  go  to  a  variety show if  you  don't  like it?
Organo-fluorine compounds are activated only at  very high temperatures.  Or
has  my colleague forgotten  the difference between plus and minus? Fluorine
life is life based  on  a background  of sulphur  and  not water.  On  'hot'
planets, professor, and not cold planets.
     MACEDOU  (jumping  to his  feet).  Who's that  talking  about  water or
sulphur? Professor Dillinger, who  is absent, had in view hydrogen flouride.
I  am not  surprised that  he was  misunderstood by newspaper reporters, but
what surprises me is the incomprehension of  an outstanding scientist. It is
precisely  hydrogen  fluoride  or fluorine  oxide  that  can be the  'viable
solvent' at temperatures of not plus but minus one hundred and more degrees.
The rose clouds might also be visitors from a cold planet, gentlemen.
     VOICE FROM BACK OF AUDITORIUM (speaker hides behind the man in front of
him). At what  temperature, Professor, do they cut kilometre-thick layers of
ice?
     TAINE. Another point in favour of the hot planet.
     PROFESSOR GWINELLI (Italy). More  likely in favour of the hypothesis of
gas-plasma life.
     TAINE.  It is  difficult  to  believe  that  even  in  extraterrestrial
conditions gas could serve as a medium for biochemical reactions.
     GWINELLI [heatedly). What  about  the famous  experiments of Miller who
succeeded  in synthesizing elementary organic compounds in a gaseous medium?
And the  investigations of the Soviet  Academician Oparin? Carbon, nitrogen,
oxygen and hydrogen are to be found in any corner of the universe. And these
elements, in their turn, form compounds that carry us up the ladder of life,
including the jump from the nonliving to the living. Then why should  we not
conjecture that it is precisely in a  gaseous medium that a  life originated
that has risen to the heights of a supercivilization?
     CHAIRMAN. Can  you formulate  your  idea  within  the framework  of the
hypothesis?
     GWINELLI. Of course.
     CHAIRMAN. Let us hear Professor Gwinelli at our next session....
     VOICE  FROM BACK OF AUDITORIUM (interrupting)... and  Dr.  Schnellinger
who   is   now  in   Vienna.  He  has  a  well   worked  out  hypothesis  of
intercommunications of the cosmic beings, something in the nature of  direct
frequency modulation,  irradiation of ultrashortwave  impulses  and even the
possibility of telepathic transmission via gravitational waves... .
     LAUGHTER NEARBY. Nonsense!
     VOICE FROM BACK OF AUDITORIUM
     (persistently.)  Excuse  me for  any  inaccuracy in  the  formulations,
specialists will understand.
     Professor Janvier in black silk cap rises. He is the  oldest  professor
of the  famous French Poly-technical School. He holds on  to his hearing aid
and speaks into the microphone.
     JANVIER.   Esteemed   ladies   and   gentlemen.   I   would  leave  Dr.
Schnellinger's report until  we  have heard the  hypotheses about those with
whom we are dealing:  with living beings or highly organized biocybernetical
systems. In the former  instance, direct telepathic communications might  be
possible.
     "I am not  in  possession of them, but there are apprehensions that all
these hypotheses are simply ingenious fabrications," concluded  the Parisian
observer.  "The  number  of  hypotheses presented  at the  sessions  of  the
commission has already topped the hundred mark...."
     I  took another clipping from  another verbatim report, but chosen with
the  same  humorous intentions and  commented on in  the same  style. In the
third  one, the  author recalled  Gulliver and condescendingly pitied people
who could not be like Lilliputians  that do not concoct hypotheses. However,
after Zernov spoke, there was not a trace of any ironic condescension.  When
I opened up  the evening papers Irene brought me, their solidarity this time
was quite different.
     "Riddle solved!", "Russians Penetrate Mystery of Rose Clouds," "Anokhin
and  Zernov Establish  Contact  with  Visitors", "Soviets Again Surprise the
World". Such were the headlines on the story about the  conversion of modern
Paris  into  the  provincial  town  of  St.  Disier  of  the  time of  Nazis
occupation,  about the marvellous  materialization  of the movie  plots of a
famous producer and about my  clash with the  first swordsman of France. The
latter  was what  captivated  Paris  completely.  An  ordinary cameraman and
amateur fencer  crossed swords  with Mongeusseau himself. And  stayed alive,
that's what's important. That evening  Mongeusseau was interviewed  a number
of times and got his salary doubled for participation in the film. Newspaper
reporters squeezed Mongeusseau and Carresi dry  and then attacked Peletier's
clinic;  only the strict monastery regime there  relieved me  of yet another
press   conference.  Zernov  was  lucky.  Taking  advantage  of  the  ritual
accompanying  the opening and  closing of Congress sessions, he slipped away
and grabbed  the  first  available  taxi to get  out of  town  and  visit  a
communist Mayor, an acquaintance of his.
     I did not find anything new in his  report, which was  given  in detail
and with commentary. Everything had emerged clear-cut  from  our discussions
about what we had experienced. Yet the comment of even the most conservative
portion of the press was extremely flattering to us all.
     On the first page of the "Paris  Jour",  next to photographs of myself,
Zernov  and Martin, I read: "Two Russians and one  American lived  through a
fantastically  thrilling night  in  a Paris hotel, a night that recalled  to
life  all  the  nightmares  of  a  Gothic  novel.  By far not  every  person
instantaneously jerked out  of  the present world and plunged into the world
of materialized dreams and apparitions  extracted from the depths of someone
else's  memory would behave with such fearlessness,  orientation  in his new
surroundings and  reasonable  sequence of actions. This can  be said of  all
three participants of this fantastic Odyssey. But Zernov must be singled out
as the one who did the most. Boris Zernov was the first of the scientists of
the  world to  give the  only  possible  answer to the query that  has  been
exciting  thousands  of  millions of  people  on  this planet Earth: why the
visitors  ignore  our attempts at contact  and  they  themselves do not seek
communication  with  us. Zernov's  answer  is  that there is  a  far greater
difference between  our  physical  and  psychical life  and  theirs (perhaps
immeasurably greater)  than, say, between  the  organization, the biological
organization, and  the psychic make-up of a man and a bee. What would happen
if we attempted to contact bees-they with their media and we with ours? Then
is  contact possible between two still  more diversified forms of  life?  We
have not  found  it, they have. They need  not  have shown us the models  of
their  world, yet they did. Why? In  order to  get to  know our physical and
psychic reactions,  the nature and the depth of our thought  processes,  our
capacity for understanding and  evaluating their actions.  They chose worthy
Argonauts, but only Zernov proved to be Odysseus: he comprehended  the  gods
and out-tricked them."
     I  read  that  article with  such relish  that  Irene couldn't  contain
herself any longer and said:
     "I wanted to punish you for hiding  things. Well, okay, I'll show it to
you."
     And she showed me an opened cable from Umanak, Greenland.
     "PARIS.  Congress.  Zernov.  Heard your  report  by radio,  staggering.
Perhaps here in Greenland you  will  make a new discovery. Expecting you and
Anokhin next flight. Thompson."
     That was my happiest day in Paris.








     And most likely not only mine. Particularly when I told Irene.
     At first  she  did not believe me. She grinned like a girl on her first
date.
     "You're just joking."
     I said nothing, then asked her:
     "Your mother was in the Resistance movement. Where?"
     "Our Foreign Office asked the French, and they don't know for sure. Her
whole group perished. And it's not known where or how."
     "In St. Disier," I said. "Not so far from Paris. She was an interpreter
in the officer's casino. That's where she was captured."
     "How do you know?"
     "She told me so herself."
     Irene slowly took off her glasses and folded the bows.
     "You don't joke about things like that."
     "I'm perfectly earnest. Martin and I saw her that night in St.  Disier.
We were taken  for English pilots; their plane  had  been  shot  down in the
night on the outskirts of the town."
     Irene's lips were trembling.  She  couldn't even  ask the question  she
wanted to.
     Then I related the whole story from beginning to end, about Etienne and
Lange,  about  the  burst  of gunfire Martin fired  on the staircase  of the
casino, the explosion that we heard in the dark town.
     She was silent. I  got  angry, realizing all the  helplessness of words
that were powerless to reproduce life, even a model of life.
     "What did she look like?" Irene asked of a sudden.
     "Who?"
     "You know."
     "She continually changed  depending on  the  person that  recalled her.
Etienne, or  Lange. She  was young,  about  your age. They both admired her,
though one betrayed her and the other killed her."
     She said very softly:
     "Now I understand Martin."
     "That's much too little as punishment."
     "I understand." She thought for a moment and then asked, "Am I like her
in any way?"
     "A real  copy. Remember the  surprise on  the  face of  Etienne in  the
hotel? And the concentrated attention of Lange? Ask Zernov, he'll tell you."
     "And what happened afterwards?"
     "Then I walked up the stairs of the Hotel Homond."
     "And everything vanished?"
     "Yes, as far as I was concerned."
     "And as far as she was concerned?"
     I spread my arms in a helpless gesture. How could I answer?
     "I  do  not get it," she said.  "There's the present and the  past. And
life and what else?"
     "A model."
     "A living one?"
     "Don't know.  It  might be  recorded in some way  or another. On  their
film." I laughed.
     "Don't laugh.  This is terrifying.  Living life. Where? In what kind of
space? In what kind of time? And do they carry it away with them? Why?"
     "Listen," I said, "I haven't enough imagination to keep up with you."
     But there was  a person who  had all  the necessary imagination. We met
him the following day.
     In the morning I  was discharged from the clinic  and said  a masculine
farewell to the as-always stern  Peletier  ("You saved my life, Professor, I
am  in  your debt"),  embraced  the  senior  nurse-my white  angel with  the
devilish needle ("It makes me sad to have to say goodbye, Mademoiselle") and
in response came the highly non-nunish, almost Maupassant, "Naughty boy" and
I went out onto the Voltaire Embankment where I was to meet Irene. The first
thing she told me  was that  Tolya  Dyachuk and Vano had left Copenhagen and
were flying  to Greenland  direct, and that my visa  and Zernov's were being
processed in the Danish  Embassy.  I could still be  present  at the plenary
session of the Congress.
     The heat  outdoors  was awful, the asphalt melted under one's feet, but
in the corridors and halls of the Sorbonne where the Congress was being held
since all the students  were away on vacation, it was cool and as quiet as a
church after services. And just as empty. There were no late comers or eager
smokers or avid  gossipers or  argumentative thinkers. All the smoking rooms
and refreshment places were empty. Every one was gathered in the  auditorium
where  there wasn't room for even  one more person- never so  packed. People
were sitting everywhere, even on  the  floor  in the aisles, on the steps of
the uprising amphitheatre. That's the only place we could find.
     At the lectern  was  an  American.  I  gathered  that from  the way  he
swallowed separate letters and put too much stress on "o" and "a" just  like
my  English  teacher  at  the institute.  She  had studied  at Princeton  or
Harvard.  I  knew  his name, like  all  the  reading world; but this  was no
statesman, not even  a  scientist, which would have been in full accord with
the composition of the assembly and the list of its speakers. This one was a
writer  and not even a very  fashionable one-simply a science-fiction writer
that had made a name  for himself. Actually, he did not take any great pains
to substantiate scientifically his  amazing  concoctions,  and even here, in
front  of  a galaxy of prominent scientists, had the nerve to state  that he
personally was  not  interested in scientific  information about  the cosmic
visitors  that  the  Congress was  putting together  bit  by  bit with great
difficulty  (those  were the words he  used), but  the fact of  an encounter
between two utterly different worlds with what are actually two incompatible
civilizations.
     It was this statement and  the  hum of  the auditorium that followed it
signifying either agreement or disagreement  (hard to say) which we heard as
we found our seats on the steps in the aisle.
     "Don't be  offended  by the word 'bit', gentlemen," he continued with a
slight grin, "you will collect  tons of information of the  highest value in
the commissions of glaciologists and climatologists, in special expeditions,
at scientific-research stations, in institutes and scientific papers, all of
which will  be concerned with  problems  of  new formation  of ice, climatic
changes  and  the meteorological consequences of the phenomenon of the  rose
clouds.  Yet the mystery of  them still remains a mystery. So far we do  not
know a thing about the nature of the force field that has paralysed  all our
attempts at an approach to them, or about  the character of the life that we
have encountered, or about its location in the universe.
     "The conclusions of Boris Zernov  about an experiment  of the newcomers
to establish contact with earth-dwellers are interesting,  but that is their
experiment and not ours. Now I can offer a counter-proposal, if the occasion
arises. To consider the world that they create as  a direct channel to their
consciousness,  to  their  thinking  process. To speak  with  them  via  the
'doubles' and  'spirits' which  they  create.  And  use every one  of  their
models, every ultimate substance (structure) that they materialize, use them
as a microphone for direct or indirect communication with the cosmic people.
Something  in  the nature of  a telephone conversation  without mathematics,
chemistry or other codes. And in simple human speech, English or Russian, it
makes no difference, they will  understand. You may say that that is science
fiction, and I say it is too. But the Congress has already risen-note that I
say 'risen' and not 'come down'-to the level  of genuine scientific fiction;
actually, I do  not insist on the  word  'science',  it is the  fiction, the
fantastic portion that I stress, when the imagination foreshadows the future
(noise in the  hall). Scientists are polite people! Say it louder: sacrilege
in  the temple of science! {Cries  of 'sacrilege, of course'). Just a bit of
fairness,  gentlemen. Now tell me,  was it really scientists  that predicted
television,  the  videophone,  lasers,  Petrucci's  experiments  and  cosmic
nights? Those were all the inventions of science fiction to begin with.
     "I  did not  miss a single session of the conjecture commission  and at
times I was truly amazed at what I heard, for it  was fantasy  of the purest
water. Explosions of imagination. The hypothesis of a  hologram, wasn't that
imagination? The visual perception, by the spacemen,  of any object by means
of reflected  light waves? This  kind of photorecording  is  perceived  as a
three-dimensional representation and  has all the optical peculiarities of a
natural  landscape. Yesterday's report about painted icebergs in the Bay  of
Melville  at  the shores  of Greenland  corroborates  this  hypothesis.  The
icebergs were  painted  red  by  a  Danish  expedition  vessel,  the  'Queen
Christina'  in full  view of  the 'horsemen' galloping across the  sky. They
were moving at an  altitude  of  several kilometres,  yet from shipboard the
unaided eye  could not detect the slightest trace of colour at a distance of
a hundred metres, yet the 'horsemen' went into a dive, first washed away the
paint, and then extracted from the water the chunk of pure blue ice. In this
way,  the  conjecture   that  the  spacelings  have  super-vision  became  a
scientific fact.
     "Not  all imagination represents prediction or foreshadowing of events,
and not every hypothesis is reasonable. For instance,  I wish to reject  the
hypothesis  of the Catholic  Church that  the newcomers  are supposedly  not
living beings  endowed with reason, but artificial creations of our brethren
'in  the  image and  being  of God'. Actually,  that is the  same  religious
formula concerning God,  the Earth and Man,  in which the concept 'Earth' is
extended to encompass the whole Universe. Philosophically  speaking, this is
simply playing up to naive  anthropocentrism,  which can readily be  refuted
even on the basis of those 'bits' of knowledge that we have already gathered
concerning the  rose clouds. If  their creators were  humanoids,  then  when
sending their  cybernetic constructs  into cosmic scouting expeditions, they
would undoubtedly be trained for the possibility of an encounter with beings
of outward similarity  if  not humanlike intelligence. Properly  programmed,
these  biorobots would readily find  a common language  with earthlings, and
human life would not appear to them to be such a deep mystery. No, no matter
what the theologians and  anthropocentrists claim, we have come face to face
with a  different form  of life, an  unfamiliar  form that we  have  yet  to
comprehend. Most likely,  this  is  a mutual necessity,  but  that  does not
alleviate our situation in any way. Try to answer, for example, the question
of how our visitors from other worlds live,  of whether they are immortal or
simply long-living; then for how long and how far away  from us? How do they
reproduce, how is their life organized biologically, socially,  and  in what
medium-liquid  or gaseous-do  they  develop; perhaps  they  do not need  any
medium  and live as blobs  of energy isolated  from the  external  medium by
fields of force. I appeal  to  your  imagination, gentlemen: try  to answer!
{Noise in the hall, applause). That is a  vote of confidence, I take it, and
the science-fiction man can continue, is that right?"
     I notice how the chairman involuntarily looks at his watch and his hand
reaches for the bell button. But a roar of clapping and shouts in a  variety
of languages of  "let him speak" bring  him to a halt  and he does not press
the button.
     "Speaking here, Boris Zernov mentioned the  human being and the  bee as
an  instance  of  two  incompatible  forms of  life.  Let  us  whip  up  our
imagination. Let us switch the example around. We have an encounter of, say,
a  supercivilization  of bees  and a human  civilization lagging  behind  by
millennia. Observers  have already noted a  certain functional difference in
the behaviour of our cosmic visitors: they cut ice, others  transport it out
into space, a third kind  establishes the  atomic scheme of the model, and a
fourth  type creates  the  model. Accordingly, there  are differences in the
structural  forms of the constructors:  one  kind  stretches out like a band
saw,  others blow  up  into  an enormous flower-like something, still others
emerge as a red fog, and still others condense into a cherry-like jelly. The
question now arises: are we not dealing with  a  swarm,  a  highly developed
swarm of beings with their  specific functional  development?  Incidentally,
life in a beehive is organized somewhat differently from the dwelling houses
on Park  Avenue in New City or in Moscow's Cheryomushki district. Both as to
work and rest. But do they need rest? Have they any feeling for beauty? Have
they music,  say?  What do they do for sports? That's  what I  ask.  Try  to
answer  those  questions.  It's like  chess,  like  going  through variants.
Difficult of course. But that is precisely what a grandmaster does.
     "What strikes me as strange is why the grandmasters of science have not
yet asked themselves the most important thing  of all: the  reason for these
spacelings  coming to  visit  us (agitation  in the  hall). Everyone has the
answer, I know,  even two answers. Some-about 90%-are sure that they came to
earth for terrestrial ice,  which might be a unique type as far as  isotopic
composition  goes in adjacent  space. The minority, led by Thompson, believe
that  this  is a  reconnaissance  expedition  with  aggressive  aims for the
future.  Personally, I  believe that the  scouting  took place  earlier,  we
simply missed  it.  This  time,  it  is  a  powerfully  equipped  expedition
(apprehensive  silence in  the auditorium, only  the buzzing of journalists'
tape-recorders is  heard),  but  not  of  conquerors,  gentlemen.  They  are
colleagues  studying  a  form  of life with which  they  are not acquainted.
(Shouts of: "But the  ice?"). Wait a minute, you'll have your ice. That is a
sideline operation. The important thing is we ourselves. The highest form of
protein  life based on  water. Something seems  to be hampering them here on
Earth in their study of this life. Perhaps the environment but maybe fear of
upsetting it. What is there to be done? Start with God, with the creation of
the world. (More noise in the  hall, and shouts of "Shut up, blasphemer"). I
am no  more a blasphemer than the father of cybernetics, Wiener. In his day,
there were those who screamed: 'This is of the devil!' He encroaches  on the
second commandment!  'Thou  shalt not make unto thee any graven image..  ..'
And now you are building robots  and dreaming  of an  electronic brain.  The
idea of constructing a model of our life in  all its richness and complexity
is natural for these beings, for what is cognition if not modelling by means
of  thought?  And  the transition  from  mental  model-building  to material
modelling is  only one step of  progress. There will come a time and we will
be  doing  that. Some even  say  when: next  century. So why  shouldn't some
supercivilization of cosmic beings have attained that  much earlier,  say by
one thousand years?"
     The writer  fell silent, took a gulp of soda water  and stood thinking.
The audience waited. No one coughed, no one got uneasy, no one whispered.  I
was  never present  at a  lecture that was  listened to with  such  reverent
attention.  He was  silent,  and his  glance, as if severed  from everything
about him, seemed to be groping for some distant-distant thing, inaccessible
to all except him.
     Then he started again ever so softly, though no one missed even so much
as the  intonation: "If  it is  possible  to  build a model  of life,  it is
possible to carry it away;  record  it and then set it up somewhere else  in
one's own vicinity and establish a nutrient medium for its development. What
is needed for this purpose? An artificial satellite, an asteroid,  a planet,
a  model  of  the  terrestrial  atmosphere   and  of  solar  radiation.  But
principally water, water and more water, without which protein-based life is
an impossibility. Therein lies the meaning  of  transporting terrestrial ice
in quantities sufficient for supplying a whole planet. It is then that  deep
within our galaxy (or  perhaps  even some other  galaxy) there will emerge a
new world, not  a repetition but a similarity, and one  with the most subtle
kinship,  for all the  models  of these spacepeople are flawless and precise
{Remark:  "A cosmic  zoo with  humanlike at  larger). Quite naturally, there
will be such as the person  who  just  spoke {laughter). But I would correct
him,  not  a zoo  but  a  laboratory. Or,  to be  more  exact,  a scientific
institute  where human life would,  in all its complexity of psychic, social
and  everyday  aspects,  become  the  subject  of  a  profound,  careful and
considerate  study. It would of course be studied. That was the  purpose  of
making experiments, but it would be studied and not meddled with, studied in
development  and in  motion forward and grasped in motion. And if once  this
motion  were  comprehended,  there  might  be  some  way   of  refining  and
accelerating  it. I think I've said  all I need to. That  is  my hypothesis.
Object if you  wish.  Like any hypothesis newly  born of the imagination, it
can of course  be  readily refuted. Yet I am pleased to think that somewhere
in  the  depths of the universe there lives  and moves a piece of  our life,
even though  only  a  modelled,  synthesized piece, but created for a  great
idea-the closer understanding of two civilizations that  are at present very
far removed from one another, the basis for this better understanding having
been laid here on  the  Earth. And  if the space people  return,  they  will
return  with  an  understanding of  us,  they  will be enriched  by  such  a
comprehension, we  will  have given them something, and  they will know what
need be given us on this mutual pathway towards perfection."
     The writer bent forward slightly in a bow and left the lectern. Silence
followed  in his  wake,  a  silence much  more eloquent  than  any storm  of
applause.








     We cut out something  like a foxhole at the very edge of the plateau of
ice that  had apparently  been cut by a  gigantic knife. The shiny pale blue
section that reflected just as  blue a sky with not  a cloud  in  sight fell
from the height  of  a five-storey house. Actually, this was not a cut but a
gouge,  a  broad excavation of  about three hundred metres  in diameter that
stretched  beyond the  horizon. Its  ideally  even  and  straight  structure
resembled the bed of an artificial  canal prior to entry of water. The empty
canal cut in a mass of ice came right up to a violet spot.
     In the solid wall of cold blue fire it darkened like an entrance way or
an  exit. Not only a snow tractor, even an  icebreaker of medium proportions
could freely pass through it without touching  the uneven pulsating sides. I
aimed my  camera  and  spent a few  tens  of  metres  of film on it and then
switched out. The spot was like any other, no miracles!
     But the wall of blue  fire  far exceeded all  the wonders of the world.
Picture to yourself the bluish flame  of an alcohol lamp illuminated further
from  behind by the steady rays  of the sun  hanging just above the horizon.
The brilliant fire growing blue in the light, next to it another one, and at
a short distance the snaking outline of a third, then a fourth, and they all
merge into a Hat even  flame in contact with one another  along the faces of
some kind of marvellous flaming  crystal. Now enlarge that a  thousand-fold.
The flames race up a kilometre in height, bend inwards somewhere in the pale
blue sky, the facets blending into a giant crystal that does not reflect but
captures the  full  beauty of this  subdued  sky, morning and sun.  It was a
mistake when someone called it an octahedron.  First of all, it  is flat  at
the bottom like the plateau  on  which it  stands; secondly, it has numerous
facets,  not  alike  and not  symmetric, but  fanciful  crystalline surfaces
beyond which a marvellously beautiful blue gas flows and flames.
     "I  can't  tear  my eyes off it,"  said Irene  when  we  approached the
skating rink of blue flame.  We  came to within  thirty metres, but couldn't
get any closer  because one's body  grows  heavier  and  heavier.  A vertigo
grasps you as if you are standing on a high  precipice. The Niagara falls is
magnificent, but this is beyond all comparison. It's hypnotizing.
     I tried to look at the violet spot. It was fairly common even trivial-a
sort of lilac satin drawn taut over an uneven frame.
     "Could that  be the entrance  way?" Irene mused aloud. "The  door to  a
wonder."
     I recalled yesterday's conversation between Thompson and Zernov.
     "I  told  you it was  the entrance way. Smoke, gas,  all that  sort  of
stuff.  They  passed through it single-file. I saw  it myself. And now we've
passed through."
     "Not you, but a directed shock-wave."
     "What's  the difference? I have  demonstrated to  them  that humans are
capable of thinking and of drawing conclusions."
     "A mosquito finds an opening in a  net and bites. What kind of proof is
that of any ability to think and draw conclusions?"
     "You know, I'm  fed up with this talk  about mosquito civilizations. We
are a  true civilization and not one of bugs and ants. And I think that they
comprehend as much. And that is already contact."
     "Too costly. One person has paid with his life."
     "That  was an  elementary  accident.  Perhaps  the  wiring  was wet  or
something like that. A lot of  things happen. A worker  with high explosives
is no  gardener. I say  that Hanter died due to  his own lack of caution, he
could  have  jumped into the  crevice;  there  was  time  enough.  Then  the
reflected shock-wave would have passed over him."
     "They've reflected it again."
     "The second one. The first  got through, don't forget. But Hanter could
have made a second mistake by not calculating the direction properly."
     "It would  be more correct to say  that they themselves calculated both
the force of the charge and the direction of the wave. And deflected it."
     "Let's try something else."
     "What  for  instance? They are  not sensitive  either to beta  or gamma
rays."
     "How about  a laser or a jet of water? An ordinary hydraulic excavator.
In itself, any change of  means of penetration to the violet spot and beyond
would, in our view, make them sit up  and  think. And that means contact. Or
at least the preliminaries of contact."
     Thompson's  new weapon was brought almost up  to  the very "spot"; they
were separated  by no  more  than  fifteen metres. The force field  was  not
apparent even in this  microregion.  From my photography site  on top of the
plateau, the hydraulic excavator resembled a grey cat readying  itself for a
jump. Its streamlined metallic surfaces shimmered dully on the background of
snow. The  English mechanic was  making a last check on some  kind of clutch
and contacts. Two steps from him was  an indentation cut in the ice the size
of a human being.
     Irene was  not with me. After the death of  the demolition  worker  she
refused to be present at "suicides" organized and paid for by a maniac whose
place is in an insane asylum. The "maniac" himself, together with Zernov and
other advisers, delivered the signals from their headquarters  by telephone.
The  headquarters was located a short distance from me  on the plateau  in a
hut  made  of  thermally insulated blocks.  A corrugated metal tank  rose up
alongside.  Big chunks of  ice were  fed to this  tank and  the  melt  water
entered  a  hydraulic  excavator.  Technically  speaking, the expedition was
conceived and executed flawlessly.
     I too was ready with  my  camera aimed.  Ready! Shoot!  A flash  of the
pencil-thin  jet  pierced   the  gaseous  curtain  of  the   "spot"  without
encountering any resistance,  and then vanished beyond it,  as if severed at
the  base. Half a minute  later, the  ultra-high-speed  jet shifted, slashed
through  the  violet  mirage at  an  angle  and  vanished  again. Even  in a
high-power pair of binoculars I could not detect the slightest change in the
structure surrounding the "spot",  either in  the diverging rings, or in the
turbulent or luminary flows, which might have been produced by the impact of
the hydrojet in an allied medium.
     This did not last more  than two minutes. Then, of a sudden, the "spot"
slowly crawled upwards, like a fly on  a blue curtain. The hydrojet  met the
scintillating  blue, did not pass through it, but split into two parts, like
a jet of water from a fire hydrant crashing into a window. That very instant
the water built up into a  whirling  twister  that was not deflected  to the
side, but curled  downwards to the  ground.  I am  not  positive  about  the
accuracy of my description. Specialists who later viewed the film found some
regularities in the motion of spray, but that's the way I saw it.
     I continued photographing for a while, and then quit, figuring that for
science that would be  enough and for the general public, more  than enough.
But at  that  instant the water  jet was switched off: Thompson, apparently,
had realized  the  experiment  was  pointless. Meanwhile, the "spot" crawled
upwards, ever upwards, until  it  vanished  at aircraft altitude beyond  the
curve of the enormous blue tongues curled inwards.
     That  was the most  impressive thing I observed  in  Greenland-out of a
great  number  of  impressive  items.  First   the   marvellous  airport  at
Copenhagen, the  multilayered  Danish  sandwiches aboard the  plane, and the
colours of  Greenland as we approached from  the air-the perfectly white ice
plateau to the  north, the  black level stretch off to the south, from which
fresh ice  had  been excavated,  the dark  red  promontories of  the coastal
mountain ridges and the blue  of the sea that blended into the dull green of
the fjords. After that came a coastwise voyage on a  schooner  northwards to
Umanak. That's where Wegener's*  (* A  German expedition which  in 1930-1931
explored the thickness of  the ice cover in the central and northern regions
of the continent. Wegener died a tragic death during his last wintering over
season.) famous expedition started out on its last lap.
     Already on the schooner "Akiuta" we found ourselves in an atmosphere of
general  turbulence and unaccountable exhilaration  that gripped  the entire
crew,  from  the  captain to  the  cook.  Since  we  did not  know  a single
Scandinavian  language,  we  wouldn't  have  learned  a  thing if  our  only
companion, Dr. Karl Petersen from the  Danish polar station in Godhaven, did
not turn out to be a very communicative  person with an  excellent knowledge
of English.
     "Have you ever seen  our fjords before?" he asked over a cup of  coffee
in the mess room. "No?  The wind drives the sea ice even in July. There have
been ice fields up to three and  even five  kilometres  across. In Godhaven,
half  the  harbour is covered with ice the year around. Caravans of icebergs
descend  from  the  glaciers  of  Uperniwik and farther north. The whole  of
Baffin Bay has been clogged up with them like a traffic jam on a highway. No
matter where you look, there are always two or three in your field of  view.
That was before. Now, not a single one about in  a whole day of sailing. And
notice  how warm it is. Both  the  water and the air.  Have  you noticed how
upset the crew is? They're talking of going into commercial fishing. Herring
and cod are now  coming from Norwegian waters in huge schools. From the air,
they say,  you can even see them near the eastern fjords. Do you picture  it
on the map?  What is  our eastern  shoreline? Jammed both  winter and summer
because all the Russian Arctic ice gathers there. Where  is  the Arctic  ice
today? On Sirius? The 'horsemen' have fished it all out clean. Incidentally,
why are they called 'horsemen'? Those that have seen  them  say they're more
like balloons or dirigibles. I  haven't  had any luck that way, haven't seen
any at all. Perhaps  they'll put in an appearance during our trip, or  maybe
at Umanak."
     But  we  did not  encounter  any  of  them either during the trip or at
Umanak.  They  appeared here  before  when they began excavating glacial ice
that was descending  into the  waters of the bay. Then they left behind them
an ideal canal bed cut  out of the ice about three  hundred  kilometres long
back into the interior of the continental plateau. As if they knew that they
were  going  to follow their route from Umanak,  where Wegener's  expedition
crawled  along  on sleighs over gravel frozen into the ice.  We had  at  our
disposal a marvellous highway  of  ice,  broader  than any  speedway  in the
world,  and  a  crosscountry  vehicle  on  caterpillar  tread  ordered  from
Dusseldorf.  Our crew was Antarctic, but  the vehicle  was smaller than  the
"Kharkovchan-ka" and neither as speedy or as tough.
     "There'll be trouble enough with  it,  you'll see. One  hour of travel,
two  of  waiting,"  said  Vano,  who  had just  received  a  radiogram  from
Thompson's  headquarters stating that  two other  Sno-Cats of the expedition
that had started out  24 hours ago had not yet arrived at their destination.
This is  driving us  mad.  There's nothing to  buy here.  Syrup in place  of
sugar.  Lucky,  we  brought  flying  boots,  otherwise  you'd  have to  wear
camiki-Eskimo  footwear  of  dogfur-with  grass.  Every  previous  Greenland
expedition had  worn those unpleasant boots. Vano was completely indifferent
to the  surrounding  scenery painted  so remarkably  by Rockwell Kent. Tolya
even looked at Irene  reproachfully for her admiration  of the Gothic in the
Umanak mountains and of the colours  of the Greenland summer, which for some
reason reminded us of Moscow summers in the countryside.
     "Clear  as  daylight,"  Tolya  explained,  "the  line  of cyclones  has
shifted,  no snow. July winds.  Don't whine  Vano, we'll  get there  without
mishap."
     But adventures began  hardly three hours  after we got started. We were
stopped  by a  helicopter  sent  by Thompson. The  Admiral  was  in need  of
advisers  and  wanted  to  speed  up  Zernov's arrival. Martin  piloted  the
helicopter.
     What  he related  was  fantastic  even  for  us  who  were  used to the
mysterious doings of the "horsemen from nowhere".
     On this  helicopter, Martin  made a survey  of the latest trick  of the
cosmic visitors-blue protuberances merging at high altitudes in the  form of
a multi-facet roof. As  always,  the rose clouds appeared suddenly  and from
nowhere, as it seemed. They  passed over Martin without paying any attention
to  him and vanished  in the  violet crater somewhere near  the edge of  the
cover. That is where Martin headed his craft.
     He landed on a violet pad and did  not find any support. The helicopter
kept  on descending,  freely  penetrating the lilac-grey  cloudy medium. For
about two minutes visibility was nil, and then Martin's machine found itself
hovering  over a city, a large modern city but with a  limited  horizon. The
blue  cupola of the sky  covered it, as it  were,  like a  hood.  There  was
something familiar  in the city, as far as Martin  could see. He descended a
bit and then piloted his craft along the central street that cut the city in
two  from  one  end to the other and recognized  it at  once-Broad-way. This
seemed  so preposterous that he  rubbed his eyes. No,  this was Broadway all
right. Forty-second street over there, then the station.  A  bit  closer was
Times Square, to the left the canyon of Wall Street. He  could even make out
the  church, the  famous  millionaire church.  Martin was  able to pick  out
Rockerfeller  Centre  and  the  Huggenheim  Museum and the enormous towering
Empire  State  Building. From  the  observation  platform,  tiny  figures of
tourists  were  waving  handkerchiefs,  down  in  the  streets  below   were
multicoloured  automobiles crawling  along like ants. Martin  turned  in the
direction of the sea, but  something prevented  him from advancing.  Then it
dawned on him that it was  not he  who was piloting his craft-invisible eyes
and hands were doing the job for him. For another three minutes or so he was
taken over  the  river, which  appeared to be cut  by the cupola of the sky.
Inside, the blue radiance gave the appearance of a summer sky illuminated by
a  sun that had just sunk below the horizon. Then  he was over Central Park,
had  almost  reached Harlem, but at that moment  he was being pushed upwards
through a denseless lilac-coloured  cork into the natural atmosphere of  the
earth. That is how he got back into the normal  sky together with his craft,
above  the  city now hidden in a blue flame.  At  once, he  sensed  that the
helicopter was in his control and ready  for action. Martin then went in for
a landing at the site of the camp of the expedition.
     We listened avid for information and  did  not interrupt  with a single
word. Then Zernov, after some thought, asked:
     "Have you reported to  the Admiral?" "No, I  haven't. He's queer enough
as it is." "Are you positive you saw everything  well?  No mistake?  Nothing
confused?"
     "You can't mistake New York. But why  New  York? They  never  even came
close to it. Anyone ever read about a red fog in New York?" "Maybe they  did
it at  night."  I suggested. "Why?" objected  Zernov.  "We already  know  of
models built  up from visual samples,  from  imprints of the memory.  Do you
know the city in detail?" he asked Martin.
     "I was born there."
     "How many times have you walked the streets?"
     "Thousands of times."
     "That's  it.  You walked about,  observed  and got accustomed. Your eye
recorded and your memory stored away  the recordings. They  went through the
recordings, selected the ones they wanted and reproduced them."
     "Does that mean that that is my New York, the way I saw it?"
     "I'm not positive, they might have modelled  the psyche of a number  of
New Yorkers, including yours  too. Kind of a jigsaw puzzle. Large numbers of
little pieces of cardboard are put together to form a picture, a portrait, a
scene. And that's the way they  did it: thousands of visual impressions  are
assembled into something that actually  exists, but as viewed and remembered
by different  people  in different situations.  I think  that  the Manhattan
reconstructed in the blue laboratory  of the cosmic-men  is not  exactly the
true Manhattan. In some way it must differ from the real thing.  In details,
in points of view. The visual memory rarely portrays things exactly  as they
are,  it  creates. And the  collective memory  is  still  more material  for
creativity. Jigsaw puzzle creativity."
     "I'm  not  a  scientist,   sir,"  said  Martin,  "but  that  is  surely
impossible. Science is not capable of explaining it."
     "Science..."  and Zernov sniggered. "Our science here on earth does not
yet  allow for the possibility of a repeated  creation of the  world. But in
the distant,  the  far distant, future it  will  finally  provide for such a
possibility."
     After Martin's  story, everything  appeared to  me routine  and  common
until I saw and filmed the blue protuberances and the violet spot. The fresh
wonder of the cosmic people  was  just as  extraordinary and inexplicable as
all the earlier ones had been. Those were the thoughts that clamoured for my
attention as I returned to the camp.
     As I approached, Irene came running all excited.
     "Yuri, Thompson wants to see you,  hurry up. The Admiral has called all
the members of the expedition. A Council of War."








     We  were  the last  to arrive and immediately sensed  the atmosphere of
curiosity and apprehension. The urgent, extraordinary nature  of the meeting
as it came  straightway after  the experiment indicated  that  Thompson  was
undecided. He who was so used to making decisions  alone was now overanxious
to  get a collective view. He now wanted the opinion of  as  many people  as
possible.
     The meeting  was conducted in English. Those who didn't understand  sat
closer to their neighbours for a running translation.
     "The  experiment  has  been  a  success,"  Thompson  began  without any
introductory  words.  "They have  already gone over  to  the  defensive. The
violet entrance  way has been shifted to the upper facets  of the cupola. In
this connection  I  will try to use something new.  From above  and from the
air."
     "A bomb?" someone put in.
     "And what if it is?"
     "You  haven't got any nuclear ones," Zernov remarked  coldly.  "And you
haven't any  conventional  high explosives  either. The best you can do is a
plastic bomb to blow  up safes or cars. Whom do you  think you will frighten
with such toys?"
     The Admiral shot a brief glance at him and parried:
     "I am not speaking of bombs."
     "I advise you to tell him, Martin," said Zernov.
     "I  know,"  the Admiral put in.  "Directed hallucinations. Hypnomirage.
We'll try someone else, not Martin."
     "We have only one pilot, sir."
     "I do not  intend to risk  the helicopter. I need parachutists. And not
simple ones, but..." he  screwed up his mouth  looking for  the  right word,
"say, ones that have already had dealings with the spacemen."
     We exchanged glances. Zernov was out because  he was no sportsman. Vano
had hurt  his hand during the last trip. I had parachuted twice in  my life,
but without any pleasure either time.
     "I  would like  to  know whether Anokhin would be able to  perform that
operation," Thompson said.
     I was angry.
     "It isn't a matter of being able to, but one of wanting to, Admiral."
     "You mean that you do not have that desire?"
     "You guessed it, sir."
     "How much do you want, Anokhin? A hundred? Two hundred?"
     "Not  a cent. I do not get  pay for the work I  do  in  the expedition,
Admiral."
     "It's all the same, you obey the rulings made by your superior."
     "According  to  regulations,  Admiral,  I  photograph  what  I consider
necessary and  provide  you with  one copy of the photo.  What  is  more,  a
cameraman does not necessarily need to know how to jump with a parachute."
     Thompson again screwed up his mouth and asked:
     "Maybe someone else will do it?"
     "The only jumping I ever did was in an amusement park in Moscow, from a
tower," Dyachuk said in Russian, looking at me reproachfully, "but I'll risk
it."
     "I will too," Irene added.
     "Don't try  to outdo all the big boys," I cut in. "This is no operation
for girls."
     "Nor for cowards either."
     "What's the talk about?" Admiral Thompson asked after patiently waiting
for our dialogue to end.
     I got in ahead of Irene:
     "About forming a special unit,  Admiral. Two of  us  will jump: Dyachuk
and Anokhin. Anokhin will be in charge. That's all."
     "I see  I was not mistaken,"  the  Admiral smiled. "You are  a man with
character,  just what we need. Okay. Martin will pilot the plane." He looked
round the room. "That will be all, gentlemen."
     Irene rose and at the exit turned round:
     "You are not only a coward but a provoker too."
     "Thanks."
     I did  not want to argue, but what I definitely did not want  to do was
to allow her to get into what might possibly be another St. Disier.
     We were briefed before the flight as follows:
     "The aircraft  will ascend to two thousand metres. It will come in from
the northeast and will descend to the  target  to an altitude of two hundred
metres, right  over the entrance. There is no  danger. The only thing  under
you  will be  a stopper made of air. Everything will be all right as soon as
you get  through  it. Martin  did not  freeze and  he  was  able to  breathe
comfortably, so I think you will too. Good luck."
     The Admiral looked each one of us over and, as if in some doubt, added:
     "If  anyone is afraid, he  can  refuse. I do  not insist."  I looked at
Tolya. And he looked at me.
     "Getting  nervous,"  Tolya  said in Russian.  "He's  already  relieving
himself of the responsibility. How are you?"
     "And you?"
     "Ironclad."
     The Admiral listened  to the  unfamiliar language and did  not  utter a
word.
     "We  exchanged some  impressions," I said dryly. "We're  ready  for the
mission."
     The aircraft  rose from  the  plateau of  ice and  headed east  gaining
altitude. It  skirted  the pulsating protuberances. Then  banked and  took a
sharp turn  back, falling  all the time.  Down below was a boiling  blue sea
that  did  not   heat.  The  violet  entrance  way  was   clearly  visible-a
lilac-coloured patch on blue velvet-and seemed as flat  and  as  hard as the
ground. For a moment it was frightening-jumping from such a low altitude. We
wouldn't be able to collect our bones afterwards, as the phrase goes.
     "Don't be afraid," said Martin. "You won't get bumped. It's rather like
the foam on beer, and coloured too."
     We jumped. First  Tolya and then I followed. Both parachutes opened  up
without mishap, Tolya's  a  rainbow of colours underneath me. I saw  him  go
into  the violet  crater and slip through as  if it were a swamp-first Tolya
and  then  his   colourful  umbrella.  For  another   moment  it  was  again
frightening.  What was beyond the murky gaseous shutter-ice, darkness, death
from  impact  or  lack of air?  I  was still guessing  when  I  plunged into
something dark  and  not  very perceptible, something  without  temperature,
without odour. Only the  lilac  colour  turned  a familiar  red.  Absence of
sensitivity to the medium passed into body sensations as well-I couldn't see
my body  nor feel it, as if I  had dissolved in the gas. The sensation I had
was that  only my mind, not my body, only  my consciousness was  floating in
this incomprehensible  crimson  foam.  There was  nothing at  all  about, no
parachute, no shroud lines, no body, nothing, I wasn't even there.
     Then all of a sudden, as if struck in the eye- the blue sky and a  city
below. At first indistinct and then barely distinguishable in the haze; then
the city came closer and we could see  it more clearly. Why  did Martin call
it New York? I was never there, and had not seen it from an airplane, but  I
did have an idea  of what it should look like. This one was quite different,
no  Statue  of  Liberty,  no  Empire  State  Building,  no  skyscrapers,  no
canyon-like streets. No, this was definitely no Bagdag over  the Subway that
O'Henry had  described, no City  of the Yellow Devil penned by Gorky, and no
Iron  Mirgorod as described by the poet Yesenin. This was  a different city,
and one much more familiar to me, though I still couldn't make it out. But I
had the feeling that I would in just a minute, just a minute!
     And  I  did.  Beneath me  was  an  enormous  letter A,  constructed  in
three-dimensional space. The  lacework  of  the Eiffel  Tower could  be seen
rising into the sky. Away from it to the right and left was the twisting and
turning-greenish  hand of the  Seine River,  a  mix of sparkling silver  and
green lawns in the sun. The  green rectangle of the Tuileries  Park was sure
proof that this was real and  not illusory  green. To many, rivers seen at a
height appear to be blue, but to me they are green. This green Seine twisted
to the right to the Ivry and to the left to the Boulogne. I immediately felt
where  the Louvre could be, and the  turn of the river and  the island Cite.
The Palace of Justice and the Notre Dame cathedral appeared from above  like
two stone cubes in hazy outline, but I recognized them. I even glimpsed  the
Arch of Triumph on the famous square from which a dozen streets radiate.
     "How was it that Martin  had gotten things so wrong?" I asked myself. I
am no expert  on Paris  and had  seen it  from an airplane only  once, but I
concentrated as I observed the city before landing. And the same day  I went
over  what I had seen by telling Irene my impressions as we walked about the
town. We didn't  have time to cover  much  ground  and see so very much, but
what we did I firmly fixed in my memory.  Then an idea  came to me: "Perhaps
Martin was  not mistaken  after  all. He  simply  saw  New  York  and I  was
witnessing Paris. In  both  cases,  it  was  ahypno-mirage, as Thompson  had
termed  it.  But  why  did  these  beings  need  to  impose  all  manner  of
hallucinations?  Based  on  place of birth?  That  is  where  the  strongest
memories are sited, yet I was  not born in Paris, but  in Moscow, and what I
see is the Eiffel Tower and not the Kremlin.  It might  be that the "clouds"
choose what has been recalled from the recent  past; yet Martin, so he says,
hasn't been in New York a  good  ten years. What was  the logic behind these
two different movies they had  us view? And again  doubts plagued me: maybe,
after all,  this is no film, no mirage or hallucination. Could it be that in
this enormous laboratory whole cities are  actually reproduced, cities  that
had  made  great  impressions  on  the  cosmic  beings.  And  how  are  they
reproduced,  materially  or  mentally?  And  for  what  purpose?  Is  it  to
comprehend  the city as  a structural form of our being? As a social unit of
our society? Or simply as a living and  multifaceted, vibrant chunk of human
life?
     "It's all crazy," said Tolya.
     I turned around and saw him hanging next to me, two metres away, on the
taut shroud lines of his parachute. Hanging it was, not falling, or floating
or  being carried  by the  wind; simply fixed  motionless  in  that  strange
unmoving  air. Not  the slightest breeze, not a single cloudlet in the  sky.
Only  pure ultramarine of the heavens and beneath us  a familiar city. There
we were at an altitude of a kilometre  and  a half,  suspended  inexplicably
from rigidly fixed shroud lines, motionless. We were in air, for we breathed
freely, at least as freely as Camp Eleven near the summit of Mt. Elbrus.
     "Martin gave us the wrong impression," Tolya added.
     "No, he didn't," I said. "He was telling the truth."
     "Then he made a mistake."
     "I don't think so."
     "Then what do you see?" Tolya was worried.
     "What do you see?"
     "Why, the Eiffel Tower, naturally. I can surely recognize that."
     So  Tolya was  looking at Paris. The  hypothesis of  hypnohallucination
specifically tailored to the subject under study had to go.
     "Still this is not Paris. It's not the real thing," said Tolya.
     "Nonsense."
     "Where do you find mountains in Paris? The Pyranees are far enough away
and the Alps too. So what are those?"
     Turning  to  the  right  I saw  a  chain of  wooded  slopes  rising  to
snow-capped rocky reddish peaks:
     "Those might be Greenland hills," I suggested.
     "We're inside a cupola. There are no mountains round about. Did you see
any snow-capped peaks? There aren't any left anywhere on the Earth."
     I took another glance at the mountains. Between us and the cupola lay a
blue strip of water. Was it a lake or a sea?
     "What's that game called?" Tolya asked suddenly.
     "What game?"
     "You know, when you piece together pictures and things."
     "Oh, a jigsaw puzzle."
     "How  many  employees  were  there  in  the  hotel,  not  counting  the
visitors?" Tolya began  to muse. "About thirty. Now were they all Parisians?
There must have been a few from Grenoble. Or from some place where there are
mountains and the sea. Everyone has his own Paris and an added piece of  his
hometown. Now if all  that is  put together  it will not  produce  a  model.
Anyway, not a true one."
     He repeated Zernov's  idea, but I was still doubtful.  Then it's a game
of building blocks. Today we build, tomorrow we  disassemble. Today it's New
York  and tomorrow it's Paris. Today Paris with Mont Blanc and tomorrow with
Fujiyama. Why not? Surely what has been created on the earth  by  nature and
man is not the limit of perfection. Could it not be that a fresh creation of
things would improve matters?  Could it be that this laboratory is searching
for  the typical in  terrestrial  life?  Maybe  the  typical is  here  being
verified and tested? It could easily be that what  for us is a mix-up is for
them the goal they are seeking.
     Finally, I was thoroughly confused. The bulging parachute hung above me
like  the  roof  of  a  street cafe. The only thing lacking  were tables and
bottles of lemonade. I  noticed it  was  hot.  There was no sun, but it  was
stiflingly hot.
     "Why don't we fall?" Tolya asked suddenly.
     "Didn't you ever finish school  or  did they  kick you out of the fifth
grade?"
     "No, really, I'm serious."
     "And I am too. You've heard of weightlessness, haven't you?"
     "One floats in a state of zero gravity, here I can't even move. And the
parachute is stiff as a piece of wood. What's holding it?"
     "Not what, but who."
     "Why?"
     "Just being polite. Hospitable hosts  are giving a lesson in manners to
unwanted guests."
     "Then what's Paris here for?"
     "It might be the geography they like."
     "Yes, but if we suppose they are reasonable. .." Tolya exploded.
     "I like your 'if'."
     "Quit the joking, I'm serious. They must have some purpose."
     "That's right. They record our responses and this conversation too, for
instance." .
     "You're impossible," was Tolya's concluding  remark  and  then-we  were
jerked from our position by a gust of  wind and found ourselves flying  over
Paris.
     At first we descended some two hundred  metres. The city  was close and
every  detail  clear-cut.  We  could see  black  smoke with greyish  streaks
billowing out of factory stacks. Big barges on the  Seine and motor boats of
all colours plying the waters. A worm crawling along the Seine turned into a
train  approaching the  Gare de Lyon, and the  roiling blur  on  the streets
turned  into a colourful mosaic of summer  suits and dresses.  Then we  were
thrown upwards and the city began to recede  and melt in the distance. Tolya
went  up  higher  and  vanished  together   with   his  parachute   in   the
lilac-coloured plug. In another two or  three seconds I whirled into it too.
Then  the two of  us, like dolphins, swished  over the  facets  of  the blue
cupola. In the process, neither of our parachutes  changed its shape at all,
as if  unseen and unperceivable  air currents  were carrying us along to the
white sheet of the glacier.
     We landed more slowly than  in an ordinary parachute descent, but Tolya
fell and was dragged along  the  ice.  While I was getting out of  my shroud
lines, Thompson and the others from the camp  were already approaching.  His
jacket was unbuttoned, he  was in boots that he hadn't had  time to lace up,
without a hat-he looked the perfect hockey coach.
     "How was it?" he asked imperiously.
     I never liked that tone.
     "Everything's normal," I said.
     "Martin signalled that you both had emerged from the plug."
     I  shrugged. Why  had  they  kept Martin in the air? How  could he have
helped us if we had emerged from the plug in a difficult situation?
     "What's it like there?" Thompson asked finally.
     "Where?"
     (You'll have to wait, Mister, you're going to have to wait.)
     "You know where, come on, out with it."
     "Yes, I do at that."
     "Well?"
     "It's a jigsaw puzzle."








     We returned to  Umanak. That  is,  our  Antarctic expedition  plus  the
engineering  and  scientific personnel  of the  expedition  and  two tractor
vehicles-our  quarters-and  a caravan of sleighs with all the equipment. The
helicopter had  already  returned  to  the  Arctic Base  in  Thule, and  our
commander together with the apparatus that could be put on board an airplane
had already taken off for Copenhagen.
     That is where  the last press conference took place at which he refuted
all  his  official  and  private  statements  about  the  successes  of  the
expedition.  In the radio shack  we  tape-recorded for posterity that gloomy
exchange of questions and answers  from Copenhagen. We cut out all the noise
and laughter and remarks and left only the backbone of queries and replies.
     "Perhaps  the  Commander  will  first  start   out  with   an  official
statement."
     "It  will  be  brief. The expedition was  a  failure. We were unable to
bring  to successful completion  a single scientific  experiment. I was  not
able to  determine either the physical or chemical nature of the blue light,
nor was I able to find out anything beyond it. I refer to the space enclosed
by the protuberances."
     "Why?"
     "The force field  surrounding  the  region  of the luminescence  proved
impenetrable to our technical facilities."
     "You speak  of  the facilities  available to the expedition, but  is it
impenetrable to all the potentialities of terrestrial science?"
     "I do not know."
     "Reports  have  appeared   in  the  press,   however,   concerning  the
possibility of penetrating it."
     "What exactly do you mean?"
     "The 'violet spot'."
     "We saw several such 'spots'.  It's true that they are not protected by
a field of force."
     "Did you try to enter them?"
     "Yes,  we did. And  we couldn't  do  it. In the  first case, a directed
shock wave, in the second an ultra-high-speed water jet."
     "What were the results?"
     "No results at all."
     "How did one of the members of the expedition perish?"
     "That was  a  simple  case of negligence.  We  took  into  account  the
possibility of a reflected wave and warned Hanter. Unfortunately, he did not
take advantage of available covering."
     "We have heard that the pilot of the expedition was  able to get inside
the cupola. Is that true?"
     "Yes, it is."
     "Why does he refuse to speak? Open up the secret."
     "There is no secret.  It is simply that I have  not allowed any release
of  information  concerning  our  work."  "We  don't understand why.  Please
explain."
     "Until the expedition is  dismissed, I alone am responsible for all the
information."
     "Who,  besides Martin, was  able to get beyond the limits  of the  blue
light."
     "Two Russians, the cameraman and the meteorologist."
     "How did they do it?"
     "By parachute."
     "How did they get back."
     "The same way."
     "Parachutes are  for jumping  downwards,  not upwards.  Did they use  a
helicopter?"
     "No, they did not make use  of the helicopter.  The force field stopped
them, ejected them and landed them."
     "What did they see?"
     "Ask them  when the  expedition has been dismissed.  I am sure that all
that they saw was a hypnotic mirage."
     "For what purpose?"
     "To embarrass and  frighten mankind. To instil the idea  of the immense
capacity  of  their  technology  and science.  To  a certain  extent,  I was
convinced  by  Zernov's  speech  at   the  Paris  Congress.   All  of  their
superhypnosis is a  manner of contact, but the contact  of future colonizers
with future slaves."
     "Were the pilot and parachutists also embarrassed and frightened?"
     "I'm not so sure. Those boys are tough."
     "Do they concur in your opinion?"
     "I have not insisted that they do."
     "We've heard that  the pilot  saw New York  and the Russians saw Paris.
Some say that that is a true model, like Sand City."
     "You've already heard my opinion.  What is  more, the area  of the blue
light is, after all, not large enough to build two cities like  New York and
Paris in it."
     ZERNOV COMMENTS: "The Admiral has misrepresented the facts somewhat. It
is not a question of construction, but of reproduction of visual images that
the cosmic men were able to record. It's  like a montage photograph. Certain
things  are selected, reviewed  and fitted together. It was simply  that our
boys and Martin had the  luck  to get into  the laboratory  through the back
door, so to speak."
     That's the way we passed the time on the way to Umanak. It was the most
remarkable road in the world. We haven't got the machines that could produce
such a smooth  surface. Still, the tractor  vehicle came to halt because one
of  the treads needed  fixing and the engine  began  to act up. Vano did not
explain why. He only said:
     "That's what I told you, we'll  have some real trouble." An hour later,
after our partner Sno-Cat and its caravan of sleighs had long since vanished
in the distance, we were still  under repair. Incidentally, no one  paid any
attention to Vano and there were no complaints. I was the only one who paced
about,  lost  in  thought  and getting  into everyone's way.  Irene was busy
concocting an article for the "Soviet  Woman" magazine. Tolya was engaged in
drawing fanciful  charts of air currents caused by  the warm-up; Zernov was,
as he put it, getting together material for a scientific paper,  perhaps for
a new dissertation.
     "A second doctoral dissertation?" I asked in surprise. "What for?"
     "No, it's not for a PhD, a candidate's dissertation."
     I  was positive he was joking, but he looked  at me with pity:  a  good
mentor always pities his weak-minded pupils.
     "My  science,"  he  explained  patiently,  "has  been rejected  by  the
present, and it'll be  too long  to wait for the future.  I won't live  that
long."
     I still didn't understand.
     "Why?"  In  a  couple  of winters there'll  be ice  again in  the Polar
regions."
     "The process of ice formation," he interrupted me, "is a familiar thing
to  every school child. What  I am  interested  in is  the thousand-year-old
continental ice. You say it'll get cold again and there'll be ice. Of course
there will. During  the past half a million years there  were at least three
ice invasions, the last one about twenty thousand years ago. Do  you  expect
me to wait for the next  one? And even if I could, where would it come from?
There is  no more hope from the deviation of the earth's axis. No, old  boy,
there are no two ways about it, I'll have to change my speciality."
     "To what?"
     He laughed.
     "It won't be far away  from the 'horsemen'.  You may say that  there is
more  that's  hypothetical  than  experimental. Well,  there  is. But as the
cybernetics  people say,  it is possible  to find an almost optimal solution
for nearly all problems."  He  was becoming bored, even the best of teachers
give up  after too much questioning. "You ought to get out there and do some
photographing, your profession is still in demand."
     I picked up  my camera  but couldn't find anything to  shoot except the
last ice on the earth.  Vano was welding the broken  tread. A sheaf of while
sparks was  flying  out  of  his  work.  I  looked around  and  suddenly saw
something big, a bright red chunk like an elephant standing at a distance of
about a kilometre in the middle of the perfect leeway. It had beautiful fur,
whatever it was. Maybe the reddish light in the distance further illuminated
by the sun hanging just over the horizon, produced that colour. On the other
hand, it might  simply be a very large bright-red deer. I screwed up courage
and went up to Vano. "Listen, be a nice guy, take a look down the road."
     He looked.
     "What am I supposed to look at, that rusty rock?"
     "It's not rusty, it's red." "All the rocks round here are red." "Why is
it in the  middle of  the road?" "It's not in the middle,  it's on the side.
When they  cut the ice,  they left the rock  there." "When  we came here  it
wasn't there." Vano took another and more attentive look. "Maybe it  wasn't.
When we get this thing going we'll see."
     From a distance the  stone appeared to  be stationary,  but  the more I
looked at it, the  more it looked like a real stone and not a beast. Even at
school I had  learned that there were no  large animals  in Greenland. Deer?
But what would a dear find to eat on  glacial ice,  particularly when it was
half cut away?
     Vano went back to his welding and  paid no more attention  either to me
or the rock.  I decided to get closer.  I had  a hunch, I  can't say exactly
what kind, but something  told me to go and find out, that it would  well be
worth it. And so I went.  At first the stone, or the lurking beast, did  not
bring  forth any associations.  But  I  tried hard  to recall something.  It
happens occasionally, you  try to  recall something very  familiar, but  all
efforts are in vain. I kept  on walking toward it and peering  at it. Will I
recognize  or  recall something? And finally when the red beast  grew big in
front of me and had ceased to be a stone, I realized that it was not a beast
at all. Then I recognized it.
     In front of me,  across the  leeway,  stood our  famous  old  Antarctic
"Kharkovchanka" tractor, all  purple. The most  amazing and even frightening
thing about it all was the fact that it was precisely  our machine, the  one
with the  bent-in front windshield and a fresh tracked snow-catcher. It  was
our old "Kharkovchanka" vehicle, all right. The  one we went out to seek the
rose clouds in, the one that plunged into a crevice and
     later doubled before my eyes.
     I  was really afraid for the first time. Was this a hypno-trick or that
accursed reality?  Cautiously,  apprehensively, I  went around the  machine:
everything had been reproduced with ultimate exactitude. The metal was metal
to the touch, the cracks in the Plexiglas were real and fresh, and the inner
insulating padding on the door stuck out just a bit down below: the door was
not  closed.  Was  this  another  trap, was  I  again  in  the  role  of  an
experimental guinea pig? What was going to happen?  Of course,  I  could run
back and that would most likely have been the wisest and safest thing to do.
But curiosity overcame my fright. I wanted to open that door myself and feel
the handle, press and hear the  familiar clanking of metal and enter. I even
began to guess what  I  would see  inside. My fur jacket on a  hanger,  skis
clamped in place and a  wet floor, because the boys had tracked in snow. The
half-open inner  door  would, as usual,  creak, and  the  cold  air from the
platform would rush into the cabin with a swish.
     That's exactly what happened,  repeating  what  I had recalled a moment
before. It was even funny how  the details were repeated-the sewn  sleeve of
the jacket, the patched up rug with traces of snow that had  not yet melted,
even scratches on  the floor  caused by sleigh  runners: sleighs were hauled
into  the  cabin and then out the top hatch, because all that happened after
the machine took its downward plunge. I saw the tracks when going out, and I
saw  my double a second time in the entrance way. Now I was seeing it for  a
third time.  The door  to  the cabin  creaked,  and once  again I  hesitated
whether to enter  or  not, my knees were knocking,  my mouth was dry  and my
fingers were cold.
     "Come on, come on," I heard a voice from behind the  door,  "this isn't
the dentist, there's not going to be any drilling."
     An awfully  familiar voice, so familiar that  it was impossible not  to
recognize it. It was my own voice.
     I  pushed the door and  entered the cabin where Tolya always worked and
where I regained consciousness  on the floor after the accident that time on
the Antarctic plateau.  At  the table  was  my  double, all smiles.  He  was
positively merry, something  that I  was definitely not.  If I had  given it
some thought and had been more observant, I would straightway have said that
this was another person, not the  one I found that  time unconscious  in the
cabin  of a tractor that had been duplicated by beings from space. This  was
my modern model that had probably been replicated during the short minutes I
dropped by  parachute into the  blue  cupola through the violet  (or was  it
crimson)  gaseous  trap-door.  The  overalls  I had  on  at  the  time  were
carelessly thrown on the couch. That was what I noticed a bit later, after I
had overcome my fright and amazement. At first I  simply thought  this was a
repetition- for  what purpose I  couldn't make out-of the performance in the
Antarctic.
     "Have a seat, buddy," he said pointing to a vacant place opposite him.
     I  sat down. For a moment it seemed to me a mirror in front of me,  and
behind the mirror my counterpart of the fairy world, my Anti-I. "What has he
come to life again for," I thought. "And with the 'Kharkovchanka' vehicle as
well?"
     "Where do you expect me to live?" he said. "There's ice all  around and
nobody has yet given me a flat with central heating."
     I was no longer afraid, but I was mad as hell.
     "What's the  idea  of living at all?" I said. "What storehouse did they
keep you in before resurrection?"
     He gave a cunning smile,  just  like I do when I'm sure of  my physical
and intellectual superiority.
     "Resurrect whom? A frightened  little fool that almost goes  out of his
mind when he comes across his copy?"
     "So he was afraid, after all," I replied with irony.
     "I was a replication of you. 'Was' is  what I want to stress. Now I am,
I exist, get it?" "No, I don't."
     "At that time I did not know how you lived all these  months,  what you
ate, what you read, what illnesses you had and what you thought about. Now I
know. And even more than that." "More than what?"
     "I know more  and I know it  better.  You  know only yourself, and even
that  rather poorly. I know both myself and you too. I  am a perfected model
of you, more refined  than your  movie camera  compared  with the  camera of
Lumier."
     He put a  hand on the table. I  touched it to find out whether he was a
person or not.
     "Convinced? Only more cleverly constructed." I still had one trump card
in reserve. I was now going to play it.
     "Huh, some superman!" I said deprecatingly. "You were devised during my
parachute jump. You know everything that happened to  me prior to that time.
But what about afterwards?"
     "And afterwards too. I  know everything. If you like, I can repeat your
conversation  with Thompson after landing. Also about the jigsaw  puzzle, or
the talk with Zernov about  ice and  profession. Perhaps with Vano about the
red stone?" he guffawed.
     I was silent racking my brains for some kind of reply.
     "You won't find anything," he said.
     "What's that, you reading my thoughts?"
     "Precisely. In  the Antarctic we could only guess about the thoughts of
one another, or to put it more exactly, about plans. Remember how you wanted
to  kill  me?  But now I know everything  you  are thinking about. My neuron
antennas  are  simply  more sensitive  than yours. That is  how I know  what
happened  to  you after you landed.  Remember that  I  am  you  plus  a  few
corrections to nature. Something in the way of supplementary elements."
     I did not experience either fright or wonderment-only the excitement of
a losing player. But I still had one more trump, that is, I hoped I had it.
     "Still and all, I am the real one, and you are the artificial  one. I'm
a human being and you're a robot. I live, while you will be disassembled."
     He replied without any braggadocio, as if he  knew something that I did
not.
     "Whether they do or they don't is yet to be seen," he added with my own
mocking intonation. "It  is still quite debatable about  which one  of us is
real and which is artificial. Let's ask our friends, okay? I bet I win."
     "It's a bet," I said, "but what are the conditions?"
     "If I lose, I'll tell  you something of interest. To you  alone. Nobody
present. If you lose, I'll give you the story of Irene."
     "Where?" I asked.
     "Here if you like. In my headquarters on this sinful earth."
     I did not answer.
     "Afraid?"
     "I simply recalled Martin's car that vanished in Sand City, remember?"
     "But Martin himself did not vanish."
     "You are a more refined model than his counterparts," I replied.
     He squinted his left eye the way I do and snickered.
     "All right," he said, "let's see how events develop."








     Leaving  our  jackets  on  the  hanger,  we  entered the  cabin of  our
Greenland tracked vehicle, just as alike as the twins in the "Iron Mask". It
was just dinner time when Irene, all in white, was dishing out soup.
     "Where did you vanish  to?" she asked without looking, then  she raised
her head-and dropped everything.
     There was a long silence with a  streak of ominous austerity. My Anti-I
was not in the least disturbed however.
     "That was  not a stone at  all, Vano, you know what it was?" he said in
my own voice-so much  my own that I shuddered as if hearing it for the first
time. "Our 'Kharkovchanka' from Mirny. The very same replicated machine that
you saw and I photoed. Take a good look, it's out there right now. And  this
claimant-he pointed to me- was sitting there calm as can be waiting for us."
     I  was  numb from  such  insolence. The  scene was  Dostoyevskian.  Mr.
Golyadkin and  his  nimble double. I  didn't even have time to  object while
four  pairs of friendly eyes  peered at me  hostilely.  They were  not  even
surprised. That is the way one looks at a robber not at a ghost.
     The first one to come to was Zernov.
     "Since you've come to dinner,  be our  guest," he said looking me over.
"The situation is not new but rather interesting."
     "Boris  Arkadievich," I  implored, "why  the official  tone?  He's  the
double,  not me. We  simply bet to find  out whether  you would  be able  to
distinguish us or not."
     Zernov went over us both again, somewhat longer this time, and he said:
     "A real puzzle,  they're  as like  as  two  matchsticks. Come on, admit
which is the real one?"
     "What a pity," I said.
     "Don't get excited," said my reflection, "we're both real."
     It seemed to me that a  spark of understanding flashed in Zernov's eyes
when he turned to the speaker and then again to me.
     "Let's  begin, comrades,"  he invited  everyone  to the table and  said
softly to Irene, "add another place, please."
     "I've even lost my appetite," I said. "Again codfish?"
     That was the wrong thing to say. The Anti-I attacked immediately.
     "There  you are, Irene, now  which one of us is Yuri Anokhin? Which one
of us ordered pea salad this morning?"
     I  had actually spoken to her about it, and had forgotten.  Skipped  my
memory  completely.  I  only  noticed  how  gratefully  Irene looked  at  my
counterpart. The game was going in his favour.
     "We'll make a check on this through the use of a familiar method," said
Zernov, looking again and again from one of us to the other.
     "It won't work," I said  exasperated,  "he  knows everything I did  and
thought during that  accursed interval between  creation  and appearance. He
himself said that his neuron antennas are far more sensitive than mine."
     "That's what you said," my Anti-I put in.
     I felt like throwing into his face the  cold soup that I didn't want to
eat anyway. Too bad I didn't because he added like a pistol-shot:
     "Incidentally, doubles do not eat, because they do not have a digestive
tract."
     "You're lying, Anokhin," said Zernov. He was now on an official footing
with both of us.
     "But we haven't  verified  it, Boris Arkadievich,''  my Anti-I  put  in
without  losing  any  time,  "there  are a lot  of things  we have  not  yet
verified.  For example, the  memory.  So  you say  your  antennas  are  more
sensitive,"  my tormenter said turning round to  me. "Let's  check and  see.
Remember the contest in Russian literature in the ninth grade?"
     "In the days of the Tsar Kosar?" I wisecracked.
     "That's  where  I failed,  on  that Tsar.  Remember on what? The  third
quote."
     I did not remember  either the first  or the second or the third.  What
Tsar? Peter? From the "Copper Horseman"?
     "Your antennas are malfunctioning. Its from 'Poltava', Mr. Golyadkin."
     The bastard was reading my thoughts, and I was losing. Could it be that
I had forgotten so much?
     "I  don't  know  whether you've forgotten everything-  or not,  but you
certainly don't remember the epigraph to 'Fiesta', right?"
     I didn't remember it.
     "I insisted that that was your favourite book.
     "From Gertrude Stein," I recalled.
     "And the text?"
     I was silent.
     "So  you're  going  to  wait  until  I  mentally  repeat it?  You don't
recollect anything, you  simply remove my own  recollections from my  memory
cells." Anti-I turned to Tolya and said, "Ask him,  Tolya, ask him something
easier. Let him try
     to work his memory." Tolya thought a moment and then asked:
     "Remember our talk about the monsoons?"
     "Where?"
     "In Umanak."
     "Did we talk about monsoons? I haven t the  slightest  idea about them.
Some kind of winds is all I know."
     "What did you say at that time?
     What  did  I  say?  Christ, I  couldn't remember  a  thing, even  under
torture.
     "You ask me," said the other Mr.  Golyadkin triumphantly, "I  said that
since childhood I have confused monsoons with trade winds."
     I  recalled the  way  Agatha Christie finishes her novels, when Hercule
Poirot  unmasks the criminal, who sits crumpled  up under the cross fire  of
interrogation. That was the way I felt at this damned dinner.
     And then  suddenly  at the  height of triumph  of  my  tormenter, Irene
looked  at  me thoughtfully and  said: "You know, Yura, you're terribly like
him. So much so that it's awful."
     That's  the  way  things  go.  There  are   football  games  when  some
insignificant little player that nobody ever  pays any attention to all of a
sudden shoots in  a terrific goal that wins the game,  and there isn't  even
any yelling in the stands. They only look in amazement at the "wonder". That
was exactly the way four pairs of eyes, again friendly, turned on me.
     This time Anti-I did not parry the blow, he waited. Very calmly, and it
seemed  to me  even indifferently to what  was going to  follow. Could it be
that I too had such cold and empty eyes?
     "Personally,  I guessed  these  two  apart quite some  time ago,  and I
figured out which  was Yura," said Zernov turning to  Irene. "But what is it
that convinced you?"
     "Memory,"  exclaimed  Irene.  "It's  the  memory,"  she  repeated  with
conviction. "A human person  cannot remember everything. Inessential  things
are  nearly always forgotten, blurred  in one's memory, all the more so that
Yura is  on the absent-minded side. But this one remembers everything: crazy
contests, conversations, quotations. An inhuman memory."
     Anti-I remained silent. He looked at Zernov as if he knew that that one
would deal him the last irresistible blow.
     And Boris Arkadievich did.
     "I was convinced  by one sentence."  He motioned  with his  elbow to my
counterpart.  " 'We  are both real.' Remember? Our Yuri  and in fact  anyone
else would  never  have  said a thing like that. Each of us  would have been
confident  that  he  was  the real  one, and the duplication, the  model-the
synthetic entity.  Our  Antarctic  doubles  that  were modelled  with  great
exactitude would have reasoned  in the very same way, for  they did not know
that they were simply copies  of  human beings. But  one of these  two  knew
that.  Both that he  was the duplicate and that  the model was  in actuality
indistinguishable from a human. He alone could have said 'We are both real'.
He alone." Applause broke out and Anti-I applauded as well.
     "Bravo, Boris Arkadievich! That was an analysis worthy of a  scientist.
There is nothing to  counter it. I  am indeed the model, but  a more refined
entity than you, who are nature-made. I have already mentioned that to Yuri.
I freely perceive the impulses of his brain cells. To put it more  simply, I
know all  of his thoughts and in the same fashion I  can transmit to him  my
own  thoughts.  Likewise,  my memory is  not human, not yours. Irene grasped
that at once. That was my next  mistake,  I could not keep it a secret. True
enough, I  remember perfectly what Anokhin has done, said and thought during
all the years of his life, in early childhood, yesterday  and today. That is
not all.  I remember everything  that he has read and  heard  in  the recent
past-in other words I remember the  entire body  of  information that he has
received  and  processed concerning  the  rose  clouds  and the  attitude of
humanity towards  their appearance and  conduct.  I know  by  heart all  the
newspaper  clippings  that  Anokhin  has  read  and studied about the  Paris
Congress.  I can recite word  for word  any  speech,  remark or conversation
behind the scenes that has  in some  way reached Anokhin. I remember  all of
his conversations with you, Boris Arkadievich, both in actuality and  in the
synthesized  world.  And what  is  most  important,  I  know  why  all  this
supermemory of  mine was needed  and  why it  is associated with the  second
synthesization of Anokhin."
     Now  I looked  upon him with gratitude.  My tormenter  had vanished and
this was friend and companion on the way into the unknown.
     "So  you knew  from  the very start that you  were synthesized?" Zernov
asked.
     "Of course."
     "And you knew when and how?"
     "Not exactly. The very first instant that I came to in the cabin of the
'Kharkovchanka' vehicle  I was  already Anokhin, but I  also knew that there
exists  another  one  besides me  and  I  also knew that the difference  was
between  us.  I  was  programmed  in  a  different  manner  and  with  other
functions."
     "What kind?"
     "First of all, to make my appearance and tell you."
     "About what?"
     "That the  second  synthesization  of  Anokhin  is  connected with  the
information that  he  obtained  and  processed  concerning the  attitude  of
humanity towards the phenomenon of the rose clouds."
     "Why was Anokhin chosen for this purpose?"
     "It may be because he was  the first one to undergo  a psychic study by
the cosmic beings."
     "You say 'may be'. Is that your conjecture?"
     "No, a slip of the tongue. I know it."
     "From whom?"
     "From no one. I simply know it."
     "What does 'simply' mean? From what sources?"
     "They are within me myself. Like  hereditary  memory. There is  a great
deal  that I know, simply know  from nowhere at  all. The fact  that I  am a
model, about my supermemory, about two Anokhins. And  about  the fact that I
must retain and convey all the information that he has accumulated."
     "In order to transmit it to whom?"
     "I do not know."
     "To the space beings?"
     "I do not know."
     "I can't figure  out your  'know' and 'do not know'." Zernov was  quite
obviously irritated, which  was  not typical of  him. "How about  the  facts
without the mystic background?"
     "Nothing mystic here," sneered my Anti-I condescendingly. "Knowledge is
the quality and quantity of information obtained and processed. My knowledge
has been programmed, that is all. I would call it subknowledge."
     "Perhaps also subconsciousness as well?" added Zernov.
     But the double declined the correction.
     "Who knows about the processes that occur in  the subconscious? Nobody.
My knowledge is incomplete for the reason that  is excludes the source,  but
it is knowledge nevertheless.  What is suboptical speed? Nearly that of  the
speed of  light. So  also  my  subknowledge,  it  is  something contrary  to
supermemory."
     "What  do  you know besides  the fact  that  you  are a  model?"  Irene
suddenly asked.
     It was as if I had looked into  a mirror at my own impertinent mug. But
it was he, of course. And his reply was in the same manner.
     "For example that I am in love with you no less than Yuri Anokhin."
     Everyone laughed except me.  I  got red in the face.  For some reason I
was the one, not Irene.
     She continued:
     "Suppose Yuri is in love.  Suppose he  is even thinking of  marrying me
and taking me away. How about you?"
     "Me too, of course."
     I couldn't have said it with more alacrity.
     "And where to?"
     Silence.
     "What are  you worth when matched with Yuri," she said with a good deal
of pity in her voice. "You are empty. They need only puff and you vanish."
     "Yet I have a hunch ... I fell I know something more."
     "About what?"
     "About my life beyond the psychic state of Yuri Anokhin."
     "Is there such a thing, such a life."
     For the first time my double mused and sadly gave thought to something.
     "There are times when I think that there is. Or, of a sudden, something
or someone within me says that there will be."
     "What does 'something' or 'someone' mean?" asked Zernov.
     "That which has 'been programmed. For example,  the confidence that the
person closest to the truth was not a scientist but a science-fiction writer
who spoke  at  the  Paris Congress.  Or, for  instance, the conviction  that
Zernov's conjecture about contacts is true. And the  feeling that we are not
quite understood-I say 'we' as  a human being, do  not be offended, for I am
no rose cloud-the feeling  that much  in our life and in our psychic make-up
is still obscure and demands study and that investigations will continue. Do
not ask me where and how for I do not know. Do not ask me what goes on under
the cupola for I  have not seen. To put it  more precisely, I have only seen
with the eyes of Anokhin.
     1 know  one thing for  certain: as soon as I have told  you everything,
the  programmed functions will be switched off. Excuse my  terminology, I am
not a cybernetics specialist. And then I will be recalled." He smiled. "They
are calling already. Farewell."
     "I'll see you off," I said.
     "Me too," Vano put in, "I'd like a glimpse of the 'Kharkovchanka'."
     "It isn't there any longer," Yuri Anokhin No.2 opened the door into the
hallway.  "Do not accompany me. You know  what  will happen  to me: Yuri has
shot that scene  already." He smiled sadly. "I am still a human being, and I
probably wouldn't like such curiosity."
     He stepped out and from beyond the doorway waved to me.
     "Don't  be angry at  the mystification,  Yuri. Or at the  way  I played
things.  As for  the  bet  we made, I  will keep  it  and  carry out  what I
promised. To-you alone, as we agreed."








     After his departure, no one  could screw up  the courage  to speak. The
breath  of death somewhere out there on the icy road had somehow  penetrated
to us. No matter what you say about model-building and  synthesis, he  was a
human being after all!
     "What a pity," Tolya sighed, finally. "They must be flying already...."
     "Cut it out," Irene put in, "stop it."
     But I wanted to talk.
     "If  it  starts up again, you'll  go queasy  as before,"  sneered Vano,
probably recalling his antics in the Antarctic and added with embarrassment:
"You know, Yuri, I didn't recognize you at first. The other one seemed to be
smarter."
     "That's what  everybody thought," said Dyachuk  with a mix of irony and
admiration.  "With  a  memory  like a  library! That's  a memory I'd like to
have."
     "He probably wanted to live so much."
     * * *


     I thought, and he replied:
     "What do  you think I am, a log? Of course I wanted to, and right now I
want to live."
     Everything occurred in my consciousness. I did not concoct, contrive or
imagine, I heard.
     "Where are you now?" I asked him in thought.
     "Out on the ice highway. It's white all about me. But there is no snow.
But what difference does that make? No difference at all, right?"
     "'That's terrible, isn't it?"
     "Yes, a little. After all  I am  not plastic. But don't pity me, do not
think in high-flown terms  about 'the icy breath of death!' Firstly, because
that is a hackneyed phrase, secondly, it is not the truth."
     "But you are going to vanish."
     "That is not death but only a transition to another state."
     "A state in which you are no longer."
     "Why? You simply do  not  have  any sensations of  yourself, like  in a
dream."
     "A dream passes. But in your case?"
     "In mine too."
     "You think you'll return?"
     "Yes, sometime."
     "And if you do not leave?"
     "1 can't but leave."
     "Go on strike."
     "They're stronger than I am, old man."
     "What kind of a man are you then? No freedom of the will, no?"
     "Not yet."
     "Not yet? What does the 'yet' mean?"




     "What are you whispering, Yuri, poetry?"
     I must have been moving my lips. That's why Irene asked.
     "He's  praying,"  said  Tolya.  "He's praying to  God  to wipe out  his
duplicate. We had a cleric in our dormitory once, he was like that. He'd get
drunk and whisper just like that."
     "Praying,  my  eye," Irene  said. "Let  the Admiral pray, Yuri  can get
along with it, he's a poet. Your verses, right?"
     I had to lie.
     "Blok's. 'I know you,  life, and  I accept  you and salute you with the
clash of shields...
     "Whose life?"
     "What difference does it make? Even if it is synthetic life."




     "That's incorrect wording," he  interrupted. Orthodox thinkers can make
an issue of it. Say, a live dog is better than a dead lion. That's the motto
of  collaborationism.  You would be  calling for  cooperation with a hostile
civilization."
     "Thompson again. I'm fed up."
     "They are too. They've figured it out."
     "Are you conjecturing?"
     "I know."
     "What did you want to tell me?"
     ''That we'll meet again."
     "Why do you say so to me alone?"
     "Because that is  the way  the programme works. Think it over. There is
no need yet to spell out all the details."
     "You want to do it honestly?"
     "What?"
     "I don't admire it that way. Not in the least, I don't."
     "Let me tell you that you're not being polite, old man."
     "Listen, I'm fed up with all these miracles and tricks, right up to the
ears, get me?"





     "What are you whispering about?" again Irene.
     "A bit off the  rocker. I'd be raving if I were in his boots." That was
Tolya.  Zernov was silent for some reason. And nobody had  noticed. No, they
had.
     "Why are you so quite, Boris Arkadievich? Tired of our talk?"
     "No,  just thinking." Zernov is always very tactful.  "Real interesting
experiment!  Amazingly   conceived:  just  imagine  reaching  for   all  the
information they  need via the person of  Anokhin. Create  a duplication  of
memory. Apparently, they are not  yet capable of  responding  to  linguistic
(semantic) information directly, either acoustically, or optically. Words do
not reach them, either when pronounced or written. The only information they
can  extract is  in the form  that is  processed by a  human brain-thoughts,
mental images."
     "But  why Anokhin? They could take any scientist."  That  was Tolya  of
course.
     "Is  it   really  simply  because  he   was   synthesized  first?  What
significance can there be in being first?"
     "The number  one is of course meaningless.  The importance  lies in the
first experiment. Yes, that's it.  Too, it might  be  because Anokhin  has a
highly developed  image  perception.  Every  person  has it but with varying
degrees  of expressive-ness.  The  mathematician sees the world  differently
from the painter  or the musician, and naturally, the poet has his own image
of things. Say, when I mention the  word 'pole', different people conjure up
widely  disparate   images,  consciously   or   subconsciously,  with  their
connotations. One thinks  of  the  North Pole,  another recalls hoisting the
flag, a  third pictures telephone poles and  erection crews.  What  comes to
your mind, Anokhin?"
     "Pole vaulting at college."
     Everyone laughed.



     And he laughed as well, I heard it. Not  the acoustic part of laughter,
but the state of the nerve cells of the brain that generates laughter.
     "You laughing?" I asked.
     "Certainly. Pole vaulting?" He  laughed again. "The  trouble I had with
that pole!"
     "Why you?"
     "Don't  ask  silly   questions.  Incidentally,  Zernov  very  correctly
perceived the necessity of imagery in receiving information."
     "Did you listen into our conversation?"
     "Through you I did. I respond to all the information  that you process.
Invisibly I am present at all your conversations."
     "Actually, I myself am not listening to everything."
     "You're not  listening,  but you  hear.  And I store all that up in  my
memory. By the  way, listen  to what's  going on. Our Boris  Arkadievich  is
talking about that right now."




     "... a lot is accumulated in a memory store of such kind. And a trained
memory can extract a great deal at a moment's notice. Generally  speaking, a
'supermemory'  is not a  miracle. Recall Arago, what a phenomenon! And chess
players? Fantastic  professional  memory. If we only  knew  its code and the
mechanism of storing facts. ..."
     "Do you think they know?"
     That was Irene again. Rather unbelieving for some reason, and even with
a touch  of irony. But Zernov did not  notice  the  sarcasm, he was in  dead
earnest.
     "I  am  convinced.  It  may  be  that Anokhin  is simply  a  successful
experiment. But they'll find out for sure. Somewhere among themselves."
     "You believe that hypothesis too?"
     "Why not?  Is it worse than any of the others? Just as  many points for
it as  against it.  What is more, it does  not degrade human  beings, rather
elevates them.  The  final  link  of  contact  and mutual  study and,  as  a
consequence,   of   an   exchange   of   information  between   two   cosmic
civilizations."



     "Did you hear that? Our Boris Arkadievich is real smart. The last link.
True enough. The lacking link."
     "You believe that hypothesis too?"
     "I'm not saying yes or no."
     "Why?"
     "It's  too early.  I  do  not yet have  a free will. But  the time will
come...."
     I found that amusing.
     "Mysticism again. I'm  beginning to have  doubts about your other-world
existence."
     "Well, do you believe in saltations from the kingdom of  necessity into
the kingdom of freedom^ We could formulate it that way, if you like. Freedom
of one's  will. Freedom  of thought.  Freedom  of  creativity. Is there  any
reason why we should not repeat the path you have traversed?"
     "Then maybe the dreamer is right after all. A planet, some Earth Number
Two, will appear somewhere with our water, with our air and our cities?"
     "You can joke through  anything.  Nobody  knows what  will  appear  and
where.  Investigation  does  not  always  mean  repetition,  more  often  it
represents a search."
     "For what? Synthesized dreams? A super-memory?"
     "These  are all trials, my friend. Only trials.  We live in a world  of
constants. Nature  has long since  created optimal dimensions and forms  for
terrestrial conditions and protein life. So why change the constants?"




     I must have said that aloud because Zernov smiled and replied:
     "Naturally, why should it?"
     I flushed.  How would I account for my "thinking aloud" and about what?
Vano saved me.
     "Perhaps  we ought to  get a move  on, Boris  Arkadievich, what  do you
think?" he  said. "The  engine's working and the road's smooth, a  racetrack
you might say."
     Zernov looked at me sharply:
     "What do you think, is it time to leave?"
     "What did he mean by 'time'? I wonder whether  he  understood  what was
going on."




     "He's known for quite some time. And you know that he knows. Don't make
believe.  You  can tell them: It  is time'. Anokhin the Second  is  ready to
leave."
     "Don't torment me."
     "Well, it is time. I am far away, they are close."




     I  suddenly felt  weary,  depressed, my  throat constricted, I found it
hard to  breathe. I  no longer  saw anyone  or  anything, except the distant
traveller in the white field.




     "So this is the end."
     "Not the end. Only till our next meeting."
     "But will there be a next meeting?"
     "No doubt about it."
     "There or here?"
     "Don't know, Yuri. What I don't  know, I don't know. 'The point is that
it will be not only  you and me that will meet. We and they. Remember how he
finished  his speech at the  Congress? 'And if they return, they will return
with an understanding of us, they will be enriched  with a comprehension  of
what  to expect from us and with a knowledge of what to  proffer us  on this
mutual advance towards perfection.' That was well put, my friend!"
     Suddenly, there was a break. I perceived a freedom of thought in no way
hampered, total.
     "We can go,"  I said to Zernov, and I felt my  voice shake.  I hoped he
didn't notice.
     "How come Anokhin's giving orders now?" asked Dyachuk.
     Zernov answered, for I was helplessly weak.
     "Out of the  three thousand  million human beings  on the  Earth,  only
Anokhin   is   now   linked   with   this  extraterrestrial,  perhaps   even
extragalactic, civilization. So what will we say to humanity at large, Yuri?
Is there contact, and for how long?"
     "For all time," I replied.

     ___________________________




: 23, Last-modified: Thu, 04 Apr 2002 20:27:47 GMT